Whose responsibility is it to educate about the early signs of oral cancer, and that it even exists? If I had the slightest idea that the sore on my tongue had the potential of being cancer, I would have been more proactive about finding a solution to the constant pain. Instead, I was bounced between dentists and oral surgeons for almost a year while they treated the sore on my tongue as trauma. I never heard of cancer in the mouth. When they did a biopsy and told me it was negative, I thought to myself, ‘what could they possibly be looking for?’ When the receptionist told me after my biopsy results that I didn’t have anything to worry about, I didn’t know that I should have worried. I saw two dentists, two oral surgeons and a periodontist but not one of them ever mentioned the words ‘Oral Cancer.’ I never heard those words until the day I was diagnosed!
Oral cancer is on the rise due to the association with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Getting oral cancer can’t be preventable, but diagnosing it at the late stages can be preventable. How? Educating patients about the early signs of oral cancer, and performing a thorough visual exam with palpation (an intra and extra oral screening).
I started Six-Step Screening, an oral cancer awareness campaign for the general public and dental professionals. In addition to education about the six steps to a thorough oral cancer screening, the site can send you an email reminder the day before your dental appointment, contains a collection of stories from dental professionals who have saved lives by finding oral cancer early and educational resources for dental professionals.
Right now in the United States, dental professionals are not required to take any continuing education courses in early detection of oral cancer. My dentist, who was 20 years out of dental school, did not know what was staring at him at on my lateral tongue. Currently, New York state has a ‘one-time requirement’ which requires dentists to earmark at least 2 hours of their mandated CE to a course on the detection of oral cancer. My hope is that all states will join the bandwagon and create a similar requirement.
When I was on the tight rope balancing between life and death, I thought good and hard about how I would be remembered. I knew I wouldn’t be remembered for taking my children to soccer practice and ballet lessons….I would be remembered for how I made a difference in other people’s lives……and YOU can too by saving a life by maintaining current education in the prevention and detection of oral cancer, doing a screening on every patient, and educating your patients about the early signs. You are on the front lines of the battle against this disease!