Did you know that over 42,000 people are diagnosed each year with oral cancer, and that number is on the rise – even among young, non-smoking individuals? It’s an important message our community needs to hear. But perhaps even more important is the message that early detection can save lives. When found early, oral cancers have an 80% survival rate.
That message sounded loud and clear on Saturday, May 18th as 52 of West Coast University’s dental hygiene students, along with six faculty and four supervising dentists, held the second annual communitywide Oral Cancer Screening Event.
“Screening is the best hope of reducing the death rate from this silent killer,” said Professor Ashlynn Le. “With this annual clinic, we hope to prevent oral cancer by educating our community about the disease and using our detection technologies to conduct free screenings.”
With more than 120 patients screened for oral cancer in a single day, the event was a huge success. Because oral cancer is difficult to detect visually, every patient was given x-rays using one or more of three different technologies. Depending on the results of the x-rays, patients were given additional tests, referrals for follow up services, or an initial biopsy as needed. Of the 121 patients screened, 12 were referred for follow up and four required the biopsy.
This year’s event organizers made a special effort to reach underserved populations, working with organizations such as the Western Worker’s Association and homeless shelters to reach individuals who would not otherwise have access to oral care. “It was amazing to see everyone collaborating to make this event run smoothly,” said Professor Le. “Even the patients assisted, bridging language barriers by translating important information to others who came after them.”
In addition to conducting the screenings, dental hygiene students taught participants the critical skills of how to detect signs of oral cancer, conduct self-examination at home, and overall oral health care.
Student Andrea Figueroa, who helped translate to Spanish-speaking patients said, “I found the whole experience rewarding. I was able to calm an anxious patient who has never been to a dentist,” she said. “The patients kept thanking me for helping them and so did the clinicians.” Another student, Linda Nguyen, said, “I was ecstatic to see the great turn out of patients that came. I assisted with patient education and orientation, and soon realized what a universal language brushing and flossing is – I will definitely be attending more of these events!”
For more information on WCU’s Dental Hygiene Clinic, please visit: http://westcoastuniversity.edu/about/dental-hygiene-clinic.html