Washington girl, 5, now cancer-free after dentist discovered tumor during routine visit

A touching reunion between a 5-year-old Washington girl and the dentist who spotted a cancerous tumor during a routine visit 18 months ago was full of hugs and emotional thank-yous.

“I’m so thankful for you,” Kara Jones, Hunter’s mom, told Dr. Harlyn Susarla, according to KOMO News. “You saved our daughter’s life.”

Hunter, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma after Susarla sent the family to Seattle Children’s Hospital when a panoramic X-ray revealed a growing tumor in her jaw, presented her dentist with a card that said “I love you,” KOMO News reported.

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Hunter is now cancer-free, but over the last year-and-a-half she spent 140 days at the hospital undergoing two tumor removals, five rounds of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, 12 rounds of radiation and six rounds of immunotherapy, her mom told the news outlet.

They credit the early detection, which started when she landed in Susarla’s dental chair at Stellar Kids Dentistry with a few loose teeth, with helping to beat the aggressive disease.

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Neuroblastoma can sometimes form before a child is born, but is typically only found after the tumor begins to grow and affect the body, according to KidsHealth.org. It most commonly starts in the adrenal glands tissue, and can spread to other parts of the body including the lymph nodes, skin, liver and bones. Children diagnosed with neuroblastoma are typically younger than 5, with most occurring in toddlers younger than 2. According to the website, about 700 new cases of neuroblastoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

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“The fact that this was something that was found in the dental chair, I’m grateful that I saw this and that she was able to get the care, the treatment that she needed,” Susarla told KOMO News. “Honestly, I probably think about her every day.”

While relapse is always a concern, Hunter is now enrolled in a cancer vaccine trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering that the family hopes will decrease her chances reoccurrence.