As the National Cancer Institute's SEER data shows, early discovery of oral cancer affects survival outcomes and reduces treatment-related morbidity more than anything else, including radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery. And no one is better positioned to make early detection a reality than the dental community. Unfortunately, two-thirds of newly diagnosed individuals are found when the disease is at stage three or four. The good news: it does not have to be this way.
To help draw attention to this situation, the Oral Cancer Foundation is sponsoring the 14th Annual Oral Cancer Awareness Month in April. The Foundation is encouraging dental practices across the United States and Canada to offer free oral cancer screenings for at least three hours one day during the month to people in their communities. Through this group collaboration, the Foundation hopes to see this disease brought to the attention of as many individuals as possible, and have the disease get the national media attention necessary to meaningfully raise public awareness. A public that understands the risk factors and early signs and symptoms of the disease are better prepared to recognize and self discover things that should take them to the doctor for further evaluation.
"The dental community needs to be the first line of defense against oral cancer," said Brian Hill. "Just performing 'opportunistic' five-minute oral cancer screenings of the existing patient population that visits a dental office every day, could have a profound impact on our ability to discover the disease at earlier, even precancerous, stages. This could help us dramatically reduce the mortality and morbidity of this disease."
A national screening effort is imperative. The incidence of oral cancer is increasing at an alarming rate due to a new viral etiology, human papilloma virus (HPV-16). For decades, the leading cause of oral cancer had been tobacco, and most of the disease's victims were older males who had used tobacco for several decades of their life. Today however, young, non-smoking individuals are the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population. Doctors in the scientific and treatment communities are already using the word "epidemic" to describe the situation. Oral cancer is not a rare disease. Each hour of every day, one American dies of the disease, and four more Americans are newly diagnosed. This disease can be defeated, but only with an informed public supported by involved and dedicated professionals.