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15th Annual Oral Cancer Awareness Month - April 2014

Posted on March 31, 2014

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., March 31, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- April 1 kicks off the start of Oral Cancer Awareness Month.  For the 15th year in a row, the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) is leading a national awareness effort by encouraging dental practices across the United States to offer free oral cancer screenings to people in their communities during the month of April. 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 is better prepared to recognize and self discover things that should be shown to a doctor for further evaluation.

"The dental community needs to be the first line of defense against oral cancer," said Brian Hill, founder and executive director of the Oral Cancer Foundation.  "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.  These are also public education opportunities, instilling in American minds the warning signs of a developing oral cancer. An engaged professional dental community combined with an informed public could help us dramatically reduce the mortality and morbidity of this disease."

According to Mr. Hill and many other experts, 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 (HPV16).  For decades, the leading cause of oral cancer has been tobacco, and most of the diseases' victims were older males who had used tobacco for several decades of their life.  While the tobacco issue has not gone away, today young, non-smoking individuals are the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population, and they come to the disease from this sexually transmitted virus. Doctors in the scientific and treatment communities are already using the word "epidemic" to describe the situation. In fact, the Director of the National Cancer Institute said in his message to the American public at the beginning of this year that while progress is being made against cancer in general, there are only two areas in which cancer is on the rise in the US - cancers related to obesity and cancers related to the HPV virus. "NOW is the time to act," said Mr. Hill. "The American public needs to be informed in order for change to take place."

Oral cancer is not a rare disease. Each hour of every day, one American dies of the disease, and each day more than one hundred Americans are newly diagnosed with it.  Oral cancer has always existed outside the consciousness of much of the public, even though approximately 43,000 Americans will be newly diagnosed with oral and oropharyngeal cancers this year alone. In the early stages of oral cancer's development, there often is no pain or any physical sign that is obvious to an individual; some symptoms can be very subtle. This makes it a very dangerous and insidious disease, and is also the reason it is crucial to have an annual oral cancer screening by a professional.

Oral cancer signs and symptoms include:

  • Red and/or white discolorations of the soft tissues of the mouth.

  • Any oral sore or abnormality that does not heal or resolve within 14 days.

  • Hoarseness that lasts for a prolonged period of time.

  • A sensation that something is stuck in your throat or you experience painless difficulty swallowing.

  • Numbness in the oral region.

  • Difficulty in moving the muscles of the mouth, lips or tongue.

  • Persistent ear pain that occurs on one side only.

  • A sore under a denture, which even after adjustment of the denture, still does not heal.

  • Any lump or thickening -often painless- that develops in the mouth or on the neck.

Oral cancer is one of the few cancers that are on the rise in the U.S. At the stages it is being found today, the five-year survival rate is roughly 60 percent; however, many of those who do survive often experience life-long serious treatment-related morbidity, such as difficulty speaking, eating and swallowing, and severe disfigurement.  When discovered early, oral cancers have an 80 percent or better survival rate, and the degree of treatment related morbidity can be greatly reduced.  Like other cancer screenings, such as those for cervical, skin, prostate, colon and breast cancer, oral cancer screenings can be an effective means of finding cancer at its earliest and most survivable stage. Of all these screenings, the one for oral cancer is the least invasive and time-consuming. It is painless and inexpensive, and it can be done as part of a regular dental hygiene check-up. 

The Foundation has provided its partnering dental practices with all the materials needed to conduct the April screenings and to generate exposure for the event in their community. "Only with the involvement of a large network of participating professional offices and facilities will a reduction in deaths become a reality," said Brian Hill. "An informed public helps early discovery and increases survivability."

The Oral Cancer Foundation has developed important strategic partnerships to accomplish this year's goals. In April 2014, OCF will join forces with both professional societies and private sector companies who are stakeholders in the fight against this disease. This year an alliance has been developed with many dental professional societies including; The American Dental Association, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American Academy of Oral Medicine, The American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, The American Academy of Periodontology, The American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, and The American Dental Hygienists Association.  The Foundation has also aligned with private sector entities Henry Schein Inc., LED Dental, and Bristol-Myers Squibb, who are asking their customer base to be active in this April's endeavor.  Additionally, many treatment facilities with head and neck cancer departments are participating as well.

To find a screening event near you, please visit our calendar:

http://www.oralcancer-screening.org/events/