Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly was recovering at Erie County Medical Center on Friday after undergoing successful cancer surgery, the hospital reported.
Doctors removed part of his upper jaw in order to extract squamous cell carcinoma, which was discovered about two weeks ago.
Squamous cells are thin cells found on the surface of the skin and the lining of body cavities, including the mouth. Nearly all head and neck cancers start in squamous cells.
ECMC released the following statement from Dr. Thom R. Loree, clinical director of the Head and Neck Surgery Department, and Drs. Maureen Sullivan and Mark S. Burke:
“At Mr. Kelly’s request, we thank everyone for their concern and well wishes for him and his family. Today, Mr. Kelly underwent a partial maxillectomy to remove a squamous cell carcinoma of the upper gingival caused by chronic irritation at the gum site. He underwent reconstruction with a dental obturator. The surgery went very well.
“We are hopeful for and anticipate a speedy recovery and successful outcome,” the statement continued. “Mr. Kelly is recovering comfortably at this time. He is in the capable care of the great nurses and staff here at ECMC. He will remain here at the hospital until he feels comfortable to go home.”
A partial maxillectomy is a removal of a portion of the upper jaw, commonly including bone, some roof of the mouth and teeth.
Upper gingival means the upper gums. A dental obturator is a prosthetic device that replaces structural components removed from the hard palate. It seals gaps and holds skin grafts in place and will allow the patient to swallow and speak after recovery.
Kelly’s wife, Jill, expressed thanks via her Twitter account to the many fans who offered support for the Pro Football Hall of Famer.
“And JK is recovering! He’s cracking jokes but has no idea what he’s saying,” she wrote Friday afternoon.
Kelly, 53, made the news of his surgery public at his charity golf tournament on Monday. He said then that he was hopeful he would not need follow-up chemotherapy or radiation treatment after the surgery.
Kelly has had pain in his jaw for about six months. In March he had surgery to remove a cyst about the size of a nickel from his gums and nasal cavity. Kelly said Monday he was encouraged by doctors that they had caught the cancer before it had spread and that his prognosis for recovery was good.
Head and neck cancers account for about 3 percent of new cancers in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. The institute estimates that more than 52,000 men and women in the country were diagnosed with the condition in 2012. The cancers are more common among men than women.