Dentists can shine a light on oral cancer

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month
April 3, 2024
oral cancer awareness month

Quick summary: Dentists are uniquely positioned to detect oral cancer and empower patients with knowledge that can prevent it. Commit to remaining vigilant in screenings and patient education efforts during Oral Cancer Awareness Month and make use of CDA resources for awareness and prevention.

April marks the arrival of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. This month serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of early detection, education, and support for patients with oral cancer. CDA encourages dentists and their teams to join the fight against this often silent yet potentially deadly disease and offers resources to assist your efforts.

The silent threat of oral cancer

Oral cancer can strike anyone, regardless of age or lifestyle. It encompasses cancers of the mouth, tongue, lips, throat and even the salivary glands. Alarmingly, its symptoms can go unnoticed in its early stages, allowing it to progress stealthily.

Statistics from the Oral Cancer Foundation indicate that approximately 58,500 Americans will be diagnosed with oral and pharyngeal cancer in 2024 alone. It will cause over 8,000 deaths in the same time frame. Of those newly diagnosed individuals, only 43% will be alive in five years.

Dentists should remain vigilant in their screenings and patient education efforts. Early detection remains the key to successful treatment and improved outcomes for affected individuals. When found in early stages of development, oral cancers can have a survival rate of 80-90%, the OCF notes. Unfortunately, most are discovered as late-stage cancers, which accounts for the currently high death rate.

The HPV connection

In recent years, a significant link has emerged between oral cancer and the human papillomavirus. While tobacco and alcohol use have traditionally been associated with oral cancer, HPV has become a leading cause, particularly among younger demographics. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 70% or oropharynx cancers are caused by HPV.

The rising trend in HPV-related oral cancers underscores the need for heightened awareness and proactive measures. Dentists are urged to educate patients on the risks associated with HPV and its potential impact on oral health along with actions that reduce the risk of HPV infection.

Knowledge empowers patients

During routine check-ups, take the time to discuss the signs and symptoms of oral cancer. Encourage regular self-examinations, emphasizing the importance of seeking prompt attention for any unusual changes.

Not only is it appropriate to talk with patients about the importance of receiving the HPV vaccine, CDA encourages its members to do so. Dentists are uniquely positioned to build patient confidence in the HPV vaccine because of its ability to prevent cancer.

“To have a cancer prevention vaccine is a scientific milestone,” says Tooka Zokaie, CDA senior health policy analyst. “When dentists, physicians and health educators work together to promote HPV vaccines and increase vaccination rates, that’s a public health marvel.”

Remember, early detection saves lives. By fostering open dialogues and providing support, dentists play a pivotal role in the well-being of their patients.

CDA resources for oral cancer awareness and prevention

As part of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, CDA encourages all dentists to explore the resources on the Community Oral Health Resources page. These include:

Dentists planning to attend CDA Presents in Anaheim this May have the opportunity to attend sessions that highlight oral cancer:

  • Lesions and Lifestyles – Is It HPV? Oral Pathology Review and Update for Dental Teams
    • May 16 | 1:30 p.m.
  • Oral Cancer: What You See is Not What You Get
    • May 17 | 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Spreading hope and awareness

Whether through community outreach events, social media campaigns or in-office promotions, every effort counts in the fight against oral cancer. Dentists and their teams can make a difference — one screening, one conversation and one life at a time. Shine a light on Oral Cancer Awareness Month 2024 and remain committed to protecting the oral health of Californians.


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