April 13, 2017

Do Your Patients Know They Need an Oral Cancer Screening?

While survival rates have increased for almost all cancers, oral cancer survival rates haven't significantly improved in decades. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, close to 49,750 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year. Of those newly diagnosed individuals, only 57% will be alive in five years. Unfortunately, survivors often endure major functional, cosmetic, and psychological burden due to dysfunction of the ability to speak, swallow, breathe, and chew. Which begs the question: are you educating your patients on the need for an oral cancer screening?

Early Detection is Key!

The most effective method to date to increase the survival rate of cancer is early detection. In fact, if oral cancer is caught in Stage I or II, the patient has a greater than 80% survival rate.

Regrettably, however, the death rate associated with oral cancer is particularly high. Not because it’s hard to discover or diagnose, but due to the fact that it’s routinely discovered late in its development and after it has metastasized. Sadly, resulting in a survival rate of 42% for those with regional disease and 17% if distant metastases are present.

The only way to help curb the rising oral cancer trend (0.6% each year) is to be proactive instead of reactive. Ultimately, it’s up to us dentists to lead oral cancer awareness!

Be A Leader in Oral Cancer Awareness!

The dental community is the first line of defense against oral cancer. Nowadays, there are numerous volunteer non-profit organizations that are committed to teaching dentists how to perform thorough oral cancer head and neck screening examinations.

Moreover, there is a great advantage to having dentists as the key screening professionals. Since people visit a dentist 1 to 2 times a year and spend about an hour in an oral health wellness examination appointment with the hygienist, adding a yearly oral cancer screening to the process isn’t only simple, it's convenient for the patient. Thankfully, the oral cancer screening is fast becoming a staple of this appointment.

Is this the case in your practice?

Educate Patients on the Risk Factors of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is most often associated with tobacco use, alcohol use, chronic tissue traumas, and people over 45. But there is a risk factor that's causing oral cancer in young, non-smokers: human papillomavirus (HPV) (particularly version 16). Actually, HPV is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer and one of the most common viruses in the United States.

Understanding the causative factors of cancer will contribute to the prevention of the disease.

Here are a few oral cancer facts you can share on social media to help educate and spread oral cancer awareness. (It is oral cancer awareness month after all).

Oral Cancer Risk Factors

Sources: Oral Cancer Foundation, National Cancer Institute, Canadian Dental Association

Download & Share the Oral Cancer Awareness Ribbon with Your Followers on Social Media

Fluorescence Assessment, Cytology Test Protocol

A few years ago, I implemented the FACT Protocol (Fluorescence Assessment, Cytology Test) into my yearly oral head and neck cancer screening. Actually, I was one of the first dentists to incorporate the FACT Protocol with the advanced technologies.

Here is what I recommend to all dentists:

1. Encourage all patients, male and female, young and old, to be screened at least yearly.

2. Educate all patients on the importance of:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet with plenty of fresh, green vegetables and fruits,
  • Exercising regularly,
  • Refraining from tobacco products and excessive alcohol,
  • And visiting an oral health professional if any abnormal growths or swelling in the oral environment are noticed.

3. Complete yearly thorough oral, head and neck cancer examinations for each patient using the FACT Protocol.

Don't Skip This Essential Step!

A thorough oral, head and neck cancer examination can easily be completed in less than 5 minutes. Yet, this essential step is often skipped in many dentists' regular routines. However, now you know how crucial early detection is for the patient's prognosis. So, if you aren't already, put this information into practice and become a leader in oral cancer awareness and screenings!

Participate in the Bubble Challenge for Oral Cancer Awareness!

The Oral Cancer Cause (OCC) has launched the Bubble Challenge to create oral cancer awareness and to help many oral cancer survivors. Be one of the top practices of 2017 participating in the OCC’s Bubble Challenge during Oral Cancer Awareness Month!


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