Oral Cancer Awareness Survey Reveals 81 Percent of U.S. Adults Want to Be Screened for Oral Cancer During Routine Dental Check-ups; Only 29 Percent Actually Are

March 30, 2017

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Survey conducted by Vigilant Biosciences, Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, Oral Cancer Foundation and Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer reveals low awareness, misconceptions and desire for more information on oral cancer

According to a national survey released today, the majority (62 percent) of adults in the U.S. know very little, or nothing at all, about oral cancer (including cancer of the oral cavity, tongue, larynx and pharynx), and only 29 percent report being screened for oral cancer at their last dental checkup. The survey was conducted by Vigilant Biosciences, Inc., a leading innovator and developer of solutions that aid in the early detection and intervention of cancer, in collaboration with the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, Oral Cancer Foundation and Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC).

The online survey polled over 500 U.S. adults, ages 18-75, on their knowledge and perceptions of oral cancer and oral cancer screening. The findings were released today in support of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, which occurs in April, and Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week®, which occurs April 2 – 9 this year.

The survey found that more than 77 percent of U.S. adults want to learn more about how to reduce their risk for oral cancer, and are interested in simple screening tools that test for early indicators of oral cancer.

The survey also revealed how little U.S. adults know about the various risk factors for oral cancer, particularly the connection between oral cancer and oral human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease. While the CDC reports that up to 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers may be associated with HPV, the survey found that 59 percent of adults are not aware that HPV is a risk factor for oral cancer.

Key findings of the survey are below. An executive summary of the survey and an infographic can be found at vigilantbiosciences.com.

Screening for Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

While less than a third of those surveyed recall being screened for oral cancer at their last dental check-up, a large majority would like to be screened at every check-up. Among notable findings:

  • Only 29 percent reported being screened for oral cancer at their last dental check-up
  • 81 percent would like to be screened for oral cancer at every dental check-up
  • 79 percent would like the option of being screened for oral cancer with a simple test that collects samples via a saline rinse and flags early indicators of oral cancer
  • Only 5 percent have ever requested an oral cancer exam from a dental or medical professional; of those that have not, most did not know that they should or had never thought about it

Risk Factors: The Faces of Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Are Changing

Tobacco use and alcohol consumption are behaviors associated with the highest risk for developing oral cancer. While the majority of survey respondents recognized tobacco use as a leading risk factor for oral cancer, many were not aware of additional risk factors, such as certain types of the HPV virus.

  • Only 41 percent knew that HPV is a risk factor for oral cancer
  • Of those surveyed who have been diagnosed with HPV, only 36 percent considered themselves at risk for oral cancer
  • Less than 5 percent have discussed the relationship between HPV and oral cancer with their dental professional
  • Only 20 percent said that their dental professional spoke with them about risk factors for oral cancer at their last dental appointment
  • 77 percent want their dentist to help them learn ways to reduce their risk of oral cancer

Survey respondents also underestimated the death rate for oral cancer. Only 17 percent of those surveyed were aware that 40 percent of people diagnosed with oral cancer die within five years, with most believing the five-year survival rate to be much higher. If diagnosed with oral cancer, 69 percent of respondents would seek out a support network via email, phone, online or in person. More than 36 percent of respondents would be interested in all of these methods of support.

“Oral, head and neck cancer – particularly HPV-related – is increasing at an alarming rate and, given that the symptoms are hard to identify, many people are not diagnosed until the cancer has progressed to a late stage,” said Holly Boykin, Executive Director at Head and Neck Cancer Alliance. “Early detection is critical and may impact the complexity of the treatment of these cancers. By working together with other advocacy organizations and the medical and dental community, we can help save lives through early detection and a commitment to raising awareness about these cancers.”

“As an oral cancer survivor and advocate for 18 years, I see that the biggest challenge today is increasing public and professional awareness and involvement. We need to educate both on the risk factors they can avoid, recognition of early signs and symptoms, and the importance of annual screenings,” said Brian Hill, Founder and Executive Director, Oral Cancer Foundation. “Early diagnosis will reduce treatment related morbidity and potential increase survivability when disease is found at earlier stages. Reducing the death rate from this disease is tangible, palpable, and doable in the immediate future.”

“A diagnosis of head and neck cancer can be overwhelming to the patient and their loved ones, and as the survey revealed most of these patients are looking for a network of support and resources,” said Mary Ann Caputo, Executive Director of Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer. “Patients diagnosed with this disease can find support, hope and encouragement through SPOHNC’s many resources and programs specifically designed for this patient population. SPOHNC’s long history of more than 25 years understands the importance of the value of its programs and resources to this patient population. Any steps to raise awareness of oral, head and neck cancer will help to increase the survival rate and quality of life from earlier intervention.”

“Our survey this year found that there is still much work to be done around increasing awareness of oral cancer and oral cancer risk, particularly around the various risk factors for oral cancer,” said Matthew H.J. Kim, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Vigilant Biosciences. “Working together with medical and dental health professionals, as well as industry advocacy groups, we can reduce the number of late stage diagnoses by educating consumers at-risk and developing simple, accurate and cost-effective tools that can help detect oral cancer in its early stages, before it is too late.”

About Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 529,000 new cases of oral (lip, oral cavity and pharynx) cancer each year worldwide, with mortality rates that reach up to 292,000 deaths each year. In the United States, more than 49,750 individuals will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year – around 132 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed each day. More than 9,750 people will die in the U.S. this year, as a result of the disease. Historically, the death rate associated with oral cancer is particularly high due to late stage diagnosis and intervention.

Currently, the vast majority of patients are detected through a visual and physical exam when symptomatic and are likely late stage. As a result, oral cancer often goes undetected to the point of metastasizing. More than 40 percent of those diagnosed with oral cancer die within five years, due to late stage diagnosis. In contrast, early detection (stage I and II) of oral cancer yields survival rates of up to 90 percent. For those who survive oral cancer diagnosed in the later stages, the treatment is painful, debilitating and often disfiguring. In addition, patients often struggle with eating and drinking, communicating and self-image.

About the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance (HNCA)

The Head and Neck Cancer Alliance (HNCA), is the premiere non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives and improving the patient’s quality of life via an organized and strategic alliance of all stakeholders. The united and collaborative approach focuses on prevention; early detections; advocacy, patient and clinician resources; advocacy and research. For more information on the organization or to get involved, please visit www.headandneck.org and follow the HNCA on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF)

The Oral Cancer Foundation’s missions are rooted in science. OCF funds life-saving research and work that elucidates mechanisms for early discovery and furthers disease understanding. We provide direct peer to peer support for oral cancer patients and their caregivers. We disseminate vetted professional and public information on oral and oropharyngeal cancer, and work as advocates for national policies that facilitate disease awareness, early discovery, and improve treatments and their outcomes. Our foundation’s missions are changing patient’s lives today, and altering outcomes in the future. More information can be found at www.oralcancerfoundation.org.

About Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC)

SPOHNC’s (Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer) mission is to raise awareness and meet the needs of oral, head, and neck cancer patients through its resources and publications. As the only nonprofit organization of its kind in the U.S., SPOHNC is focused on programs of support for patients and their families. As such it can have an enormous positive impact on meeting the psychosocial needs of patients as well as preserving, restoring and promoting physical and emotional health. SPOHNC offers more than 125+ chapters located throughout the U.S. where patients can interact with others who have traveled a similar journey. Additional programs and resources can be found at www.spohnc.org or by contacting SPOHNC at 1-800-377-0928.

About Vigilant Biosciences, Inc.

Vigilant Biosciences is a leading innovator and developer of solutions that aid clinicians in the early detection and intervention of cancer. The Vigilant Biosciences OncAlert® Oral Cancer product line and OncAlert Labs product line include point-of-care and lab-based products and services that are simple, accurate and cost-effective and that can empower healthcare practitioners to improve potential outcomes through earlier intervention. The OncAlert Oral Cancer LAB Test and the OncAlert Oral Cancer RAPID Test are CE Marked and available in select international markets outside the U.S. The OraMarkTM Test is a Laboratory Developed Test that is only available in the U.S. exclusively through OncAlert Labs, LLC, a CLIA-certified laboratory and a member of the Vigilant Biosciences family of companies. For more information, visit www.vigilantbiosciences.com and www.oncalertlabs.com.

« Back to News