By Jamie O'Day
In 2016, more than 48,250 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer. Next year, that number will increase. The year after that, it will rise again, then again, and again. With what we currently know about the HPV virus and its connection to oral cancer, more people than ever before, and at younger ages, will be effected by this disease in the near future.
There are many misconceptions about oral cancer in our communities. Awareness of the risk factors remains low, and far too few people understand the importance of an annual oral cancer screening. Many of you have had the experience of performing oral cancer screenings on the same patient year after year, only to one day be asked by that same patient, "What are you doing?" Your response: "An oral cancer screening. Just like I've been doing for you every year, for eight years!"
The majority of the public is unaware that they've ever received an oral cancer screening. We need to change that! We know the reality is that they have, but we need every patient to expect a screening at each visit and know the value of that service you're providing.
The fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients is young, healthy, nonsmoking adults. Many will face extreme odds because of late discovery and the often painless and hard to find indications of disease. The Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) must stay focused on the urgent need for better prevention, early detection, and greater public awareness of oral cancer in the coming year if we hope to save lives. Free public screening events will help to raise the awareness of this silent killer and save more lives. We need your help.
Outreach Screening Efforts
Outreach through public screening events provides an opportunity to educate our communities about the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of disease while simultaneously providing an important service. A combined effort of professional engagement and public awareness is essential to raise awareness of this silent killer and to educate the public about the importance of an annual screening.
OCF is looking for dental hygiene partners to host free public screening events throughout the year. We are searching for individuals who are willing to volunteer once a month or once a year. Your participation to not only screen the patients you see daily, but those in your community as well. This will allow us to reach the general public with more information about this disease that's on the rise, its risk factors, and the importance of an annual oral cancer exam.
OCF Regional Coordinator, Alison Stahl, RDH, BS, from Mt. Prospect, Ill., has been a leader in the public screening arena in her community. She and her dedicated team of hygiene volunteers are actively engaged in organizing public screening events throughout the state of Illinois.
Alison said, "Our patients should come to expect that they will receive a comprehensive head and neck exam at every routine dental visit. In Illinois, we have participated in a wide variety of events. Some have served homeless veterans, underprivileged youth, senior health fairs, and even large public festivals. We now even have some repeat customers who look for us at these venues in order to get their free screening.
"The c-word can be scary for some, and they may be hesitant to participate, but the majority are so appreciative of the service and information they receive. Patients want to be aligned with providers who are up-to-date on oral health issues, and with oral cancer on the rise we must be proactive."
Alison is very proud of the "heartfelt commitment" from volunteers at the screening events.
"Many have sweated it out on 90-plus degree, hot summer days, and at cold and rainy festivals. But the mission to spread awareness and save lives persists."
She said the Illinois events actively recruit for licensed professionals, students, and even non-dental volunteers to join our outreach efforts. Training is offered at each level.
"So we are calibrated and able to adjust to our venue with ease," Alison said. "We have portable screening bins that have all of our necessary supplies that make our process streamlined and easy to coordinate for our team leaders. We would love to expand our volunteer teams by adding more specialists such as oral surgeons or ENTs to our group. One common outcome of these screenings is that we see a tremendous amount of dental disease outside of just screening for cancer. This provides another opportunity to educate and potentially refer patients to local providers or public health entities for follow up care."
OCF would like to duplicate Alison and her team's efforts in Illinois in every state in America. Many of you have joined with us to Be Part of the Change by committing to screen every patient you see in your daily practice. The next step is to widen your impact, to screen and educate members of your community, and to create exposure so great that all Americans become educated and aware about oral cancer. With the increasing prevalence of the HPV virus, no one is safe. We must inform and screen everyone. No exceptions!
Like other routine screenings we all engage in-such as cervical, skin, prostate, colon and breast examinations-oral cancer screenings are an effective means of finding cancer at its early, highly treatable stages. We need the public to call for oral cancer screenings as part of their annual dental checkups.
If you are interested in starting a screening team or joining an already existing one, please contact the Oral Cancer Foundation. We are stronger together!
This is the beginning of the end of oral cancer. RDH
Jamie O'Day is the director of operations for the Oral Cancer Foundation. The foundation's website is oralcancer.org. Emails can be sent to [email protected].