Despite the dental community’s educational efforts during Oral Cancer Awareness Month each April, 58% of American adults know little or nothing about oral cancer, according to a consumer survey conducted by Vigilant Biosciences in conjunction with the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance and Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC).
Yet not all is lost, as 37% reported having been screened for oral cancer during their last dental checkup. Also, 86% want to learn more about how to reduce their risk for oral cancer and are interested in simple screening tools, used in the dental office or at home, to test for early indicators of oral cancer and inform them about their chances of developing it.
“Oral, head, and neck cancer—particularly HPV-related oral cancer—is increasing at an alarming rate, and many people are not diagnosed until the cancer has progressed to a later stage,” said Holly Boykin, executive director of the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance. “Early diagnosis is significant to the successful treatment of these cancers.”
“Patients diagnosed with this disease can find support, hope, and encouragement through SPOHNC’s many resources and programs specifically designed for this patient population,” said Mary Ann Caputo, SPOHNC executive director. “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.”
The survey also found that 83% of consumers would like to be screened for oral cancer at every checkup. Also, 85% would like to be screened for oral cancer with a simple rinse and spit test that would assess early risk factors specifically associated with oral cancer and provide information about the risks of developing it.
The leading risk factors include tobacco use and alcohol consumption, and most respondents were aware of them. But only 65% knew that exposure to certain types of HPV, particularly HPV-16, is another risk. Only 23% or respondents recall discussing these risks at their last checkup, but more than 86% of them want their dental professional to help them learn how to reduce these risks.
Furthermore, only 17% were aware that 40% of those diagnosed with oral cancer die within 5 years, with most of respondents believing the 5-year survival rate to be higher. Oral cancer has a high rate of mortality because it often isn’t diagnosed until stage III or IV. Early diagnosis, though, results in a cure rate of up to 90%.
“Hundreds of thousands continue to be diagnosed with late-stage oral cancer every year,” said Matthew H. J. Kim, founder, chair, and CEO of Vigilant Biosciences. “But we can work together to impact those numbers by educating consumers on the risks and providing clinicians with simple, accurate, and cost-effective tests that can help detect oral cancer before it’s too late.”