For the 15th year in a row, the Oral Cancer Foundation is leading a national awareness effort by encouraging dental practices across the U.S. to offer free oral cancer screenings to people in their communities during April for Oral Cancer Awareness Month.
Through this group collaboration, the organization hopes to have oral cancer brought to the attention of as many people as possible, according to a Brian Hill, founder and executive director of the foundation.
According to Hill and many other oral health experts, a national screening effort is imperative. The incidence of oral cancer is increasing at an alarming rate due to a new viral etiology, the human papillomavirus (HPV16). For decades, the leading cause of oral cancer has been tobacco, and most oral cancer patients were older males who had used tobacco for several years.
While the tobacco issue has not gone away, young, nonsmoking people are now the fastest-growing segment of the oral cancer population, and they contract the disease from HPV, a 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 2014 that while progress is being made against cancer in general, there are only two areas in which cancer is on the rise in the U.S. -- cancers related to obesity and cancers related to HPV.
"Now is the time to act," Hill noted. "The American public needs to be informed in order for change to take place."
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%; however, many of those who do survive often experience lifelong serious treatment-related morbidity, such as difficulty speaking, eating and swallowing, and severe disfigurement. When discovered early, oral cancers have an 80% or better survival rate, and the degree of treatment related morbidity can be greatly reduced.
The Oral Cancer Foundation has developed strategic partnerships to accomplish this year's goals. This year, the foundation will join forces with 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 ADA, Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Oral Medicine, American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, American Academy of Periodontology, American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, and the American Dental Hygienists' Association.
The foundation has also aligned with private sector entities Henry Schein, LED Dental, and Bristol-Myers Squibb, who are asking their customers to be active in this April's endeavor. Many treatment facilities with head and neck cancer departments are participating as well.