With approximately 43,000 Americans diagnosed each year, oral cancer survival rates have not decreased. A 5-year 50/50 chance of survival seems flippant considering all the other advances with breast, cervical, and prostrate cancers. This month is Oral Cancer Awareness month. You get to make a difference in your patients? lives with open communication and technology.
Reviewing your patients health history and risk factors can lead you to the initial conversation before any screening begins. Here are some examples to consider: Have ever been a cigarette, cigar or pipe smoker? If not currently, how long ago did you stop smoking? Have you ever used smokeless tobacco? If you drink alcohol, how may drinks per week? Is there a family history of oral cancer? In addition to these risk factors for oral cancer, did you know that human papilloma virus (HPV), the strain associated with cervical cancer, is also a risk factor? That question may spark the most interest because many believe it is a taboo topic. Personally, I do not believe this. Sharing information such as facts, statistics, risks, and symptoms are all included in what we do for each area of oral health. The location of HPV-related oral cancer is different and symptoms vary from the obvious red, white, or mixed lesions. (See this week?s Hump Day Happenings).
Technology using fluorescence, such as VELscope, Identafi, and Oral ID, are a great adjunct for us while performing an oral cancer screening. It is worth the 2 to 3 minutes in our appointments to document and explain what we are looking for and why that just may save someone?s life. Changes in oral mucosa may be noted. This doesn?t mean it is oral cancer, so have a plan of action with your practice and oral surgeon. Have your patient return in 7 to 10 days and compare tissue changes if any. Will it warrant a biopsy? What is the protocol if the oral surgeon does not have the technology to view what you have documented? Where will you refer patient to next? These scenarios happen more often and not just in dentistry! Did you know that marketing this technology has now extended to additional areas in healthcare such as gynecologists, ear nose and throat specialists, dermatologists, and family practitioners?
Although I continue to practice clinical hygiene without the luxury of any oral cancer screening technology, it has only enhanced my communication with my patients. As much as I?d like to say that my patients would be able to answer the question at the beginning of this blog, truth is, some would not. I, like many of us, had gotten into the habit of performing a visual oral cancer exam without saying what I was doing. Now, the determination to make a difference is fueled by sharing evidenced-based research every visit!