Editor’s Note: There is much discussion about oral cancer. It is a disease that dental professionals can have a direct impact on not only finding, but curing as well. Proofs recently talked with the president of Zila Pharmaceuticals, Frank Bellizzi, DDM, about oral cancer and what can be done by those in the dental industry to stop its rise.
Proofs: Why has oral cancer risen in recent years while other forms of cancer have declined?
Dr. Bellizzi: There are three main reasons:
- Incidence rates are greatest for patients ages 55 and older (81 percent of all cases). For patients 65 and older the incidence rate is 58.1 percent. Therefore, an aging population leads to higher rates.
- The 2007 incidence of pharyngeal cancer is estimated to be 31.8 percent higher than in 2006. The primary cause is believed to be a greater number of cases associated with human papilloma virus (HPV).
- As the population ages, patients are six times more likely to visit their physician than their dentist. As such, malignancies are presented instead of premalignancies that could have been discovered early by dentists.
Proofs: Are people (patients and dental team members) starting to realize the importance of oral cancer screening?
Dr. Bellizzi: Yes. Currently the dentist is the primary messenger. Industry (Zila, for example) is having some success in raising awareness among dentists. Until national campaigns targeting the general public are launched, the dental office will continue to be the conduit to raise awareness of the importance of oral cancer screening.
Proofs: What are some of the common reasons you hear why dentists and team members don’t provide oral cancer screening? What is Zila doing to combat these lines of reasoning?
Dr. Bellizzi: Some dental offices say that their schedules are already full. For them, oral cancer screening is an additional procedure instead of an integral part of a routine dental visit. Others believe that oral cancer is a rare. With one American dying every hour from oral cancer, that is clearly not the case.
Zila is educating practitioners about the terrible mortality and morbidity rates associated with oral cancer. We are committed to promoting meticulous soft tissue screening, not only for patients’ well-being, but also to minimize the risk of malpractice lawsuits. Few practitioners know this, but malpractice awards associated with failure to diagnose or failure to refer can easily exceed policy limits.
Proofs: With so many people seeking information on the Internet, do you find consumers are proactive when it comes to oral cancer screening?
Dr. Bellizzi: Not nearly of the same magnitude as Pap smears, mammograms or even PSAs. We hope to change that, though, as we continue to raise awareness about the risks of oral cancer and the need for early detection.
Proofs: Your company promotes dental team members as lifesaving heroes because of their ability to detect oral cancer. What are some of the other ways Zila has tried to get the message out about battling oral cancer?
Dr. Bellizzi: There are three ways:
- Zila has begun working with the media to inform the public of the importance of annual oral cancer examinations.
- Zila is providing continuing education to dentists and hygienists through seminars and print materials. Thought leaders in the area of oral disease present many of these courses.
- We are working with the major professional associations to jointly develop oral cancer awareness programs.
Proofs: Obviously Zila has competition in the oral cancer screening market. How does your company try to gain a competitive advantage?
Dr. Bellizzi: First and foremost, the Zila ViziLite Plus can be seamlessly integrated into the normal flow of a dental office’s daily patient care. This technology is designed to be single-use, thus satisfying the requirements of patient and dental team safety, as well as requiring no maintenance. Additionally, the product support we offer to the dental office is of critical importance. Zila allocates a lot of resources to long-term product and educational support for the office.
Proofs: If you could look into a crystal ball, how would you see oral cancer screenings fitting into the dental office in the next five years?
Dr. Bellizzi: Five years from now I think that screenings will be the rule instead of the exception. Oral cancer screening products, such as ViziLite Plus, will be as common on the tray as any other dental instrument. This will come about as a result of heightened awareness of the disease by both the dental office and consumers.