Through an initiative sponsored by the Saint Paul District Dental Society, Governor Mark Dayton has issued a Proclamation declaring April as Oral Cancer Awareness month in the state of Minnesota. The proclamation is a public means of raising awareness of oral cancer and the need for annual screenings for the disease and encourages citizens to visit a participating dental office for a screening.
In a national effort to raise awareness, The Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) has joined forces with dental offices throughout the U.S. to screen individuals for the disease. The OCF maintains a website with a list of participating locations offering free screenings. These simple visual and tactile screenings hold the hope for an early discovery, sometimes even as a pre cancer, when current treatments are the most effective and survival is the highest.
MDA members are encouraged to participate in this national initiative by offering a free screening in their dental offices for a few hours during the month of April. Registering is a simple process by going to the Foundation’s website. Once registered, this will be a good opportunity to promote your dental office’s participation within your community through local media and other civic groups you are involved in.
This year alone, approximately 37,000 Americans will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer, and one person will die every hour of every day from this disease. HPV16, one of about 130 versions of the virus, is now the leading cause of oral cancer and is found in about 60% of newly diagnosed patients. Dr. Maura Gillison from the James Cancer Center, a long time researcher of the relationship between HPV and oral cancers, recently reported these new findings at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science meeting.
This change in etiology, which has accelerated its influence over the last two decades as tobacco use in the U.S. simultaneously was declining, has also changed the demographics of who is getting the disease. It is no longer the domain of those over 50 who have smoked a decade or more of their lives. The fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population are people in the 25-50 age range, who are never smokers, and that group predominantly comes to the disease from HPV16.
Dr. Ross Kerr, an oral medicine specialist at NYU comments, "In a painless, three to five minute oral cancer screening, most of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer can be seen with the naked eye, felt with the fingers, or elucidated during the patient's oral history interview. Suspect tissues can be easily biopsied for a definitive diagnosis. Unlike most other cancer detection exams, the screening for oral cancer does not require any special equipment, is not uncomfortable or expensive, nor require invasive procedures. Any dentist or primary care physician and many nurses and dental hygienists, who have been trained to do oral cancer examinations, are in a position to find the early signs and symptoms of this disease. The dental community, through this partnership with The Oral Cancer Foundation, is positioning itself as the first line of defense against oral cancer through the process of early discovery of suspect tissues."