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The Team Approach To Oral Cancer Awareness Month

The Team Approach to Oral Cancer Awareness Month


Jo-Anne Jones, RDH

With April being Oral Cancer Awareness Month, it is an excellent time to reflect on past practices, changing times and a call to action for required change.  The changing profile for oral cancer coupled with the limitations of the traditional white light extraoral and intraoral examination are just one example of a desperate need for change in our clinical practices.    

A study released by the National Cancer Institute confirms that HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers have risen an astounding 225% from 1998 -2004. The prediction was that if this trend continued, oral and oropharyngeal cancer would become the nation’s leading HPV-related cancer by 2020, surpassing HPV-related cervical cancer. Well, we’ve ‘bettered’ the prediction and in fact achieved this status as the leading HPV-related cancer in 2015.  This news was just recently published as a result of collection of all data from the national cancer registries throughout the U.S. Both the medical and dental communities have been alerted to this emerging pandemic. Subtle symptoms may include however are not limited to: a continuous sore throat, feeling that something is caught in the throat, unilateral ear pain, tongue that tracks to one side when protruded, continual lymph node enlargement and hoarseness.   We can no longer predict those of our patients who may be at adherent risk for oral cancer in our dental practices as the new profile is a much younger, predominantly male profile often a non-smoker and non-drinker.

Be equipped with the best technology dentistry has to offer.  The Journal of the American Dental Association published an article stating that there were obvious limitations of the clinical oral examination (COE) in detecting dysplastic oral lesions and oral squamous cell carcinomas (OSCC)…  “On the basis of the available literature, the authors determined that a COE of mucosal lesions generally is not predictive of histologic diagnosis. The fact that OSCCs often are diagnosed at an advanced stage of disease indicates the need for improving the COE and for developing adjuncts to help detect and diagnose oral mucosal lesions”.  An adjunctive oral cancer screening device such as VELscope provides an enhanced opportunity through direct fluorescence visualization {a proven scientific technology platform used in the cervix, lungs and colon} to discover oral disease before it may have been visible under traditional white light. This becomes an invaluable screening tool.  Screening does NOT generate false positives; it elevates and aids the application of critical thinking and the standard of care that we are able to offer.

There is an urgent need for change. It’s within our hands.  Recognize the early warning signs and become acquainted with the new oral and oropharyngeal cancer profile.  Perform a life-saving act. Your patients will be glad you did.

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