Although April is the official month for oral cancer awareness, the goal of dental professionals is to spread awareness all year long. West Coast University’s Dental Hygiene program has collaborated with the American Oral Cancer Foundation in honor of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and we at WCU offered our first WCU Oral Cancer Screening Clinic at no cost to the public on May 19th, 2012.
Dentistry has always known the importance of early detection when it comes to successful treatment of oral cancer. By all accounts the Oral Cancer Screening Clinic was a tremendous success for two important reasons: it shed light on the serious nature of the disease and showed the simple steps we can all take to detect oral cancer early.
Oral cancer is not a rare disease. According to the American Oral Cancer Foundation, it kills one person every hour of every day in the US, and 100 new individuals will be diagnosed each day with oral cancer. These shocking statistics make the WCU Oral Cancer Screening Clinic crucial given the low awareness of the disease and its risk factors in the US. However, oral cancer is one of the most curable cancers, when it is detected in its earliest stage. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to have a semi-annual oral exam from a dental professional.
During the event, we were able to provide oral cancer screenings to 33 patients utilizing advanced technologies such as Velscope, ViziLite®, Identafi 3000®, and Oral CDX brush biopsy, in addition to visual / manual screening methods. Through the use of a specially designed light, we can more accurately detect precancerous and cancerous abnormalities. When pre-malignancies or early-stage oral cancer is found, treatment is simpler, less invasive, and more than ninety percent successful. However, if oral cancer goes undetected and is not diagnosed until the later stages, it can disfigure the face and invasive treatments may be necessary.
In addition to the oral cancer screening, educational services were emphasized at the event. There were stations that involved hands-on oral hygiene instructional activities, oral cancer self-examination, tobacco cessation, a myth station, and even a Kid’s Corner for patients who brought children along. Plenty of smiles and appreciation from patients and families followed. Patients were eager to learn how to perform an oral self-examination and were provided with information on oral care before and after oral cancer, as well as the effect of alcohol and tobacco use on oral health.
The event lasted only a morning, but it left a lasting impression on our students. They realized that their ability to make an impact by saving human lives will become an important component of their professional lives.