The Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) has launched a new nationwide campaign aimed at the early discovery of oral cancers. Their “Check Your Mouth™” (www.checkyourmouth.org) initiative is built around an interactive website designed to help individuals learn to self-discover suspicious tissue changes in their own mouths. “Early discovery of oral cancers has profound implications,” says Dr. Ross Kerr, an oral medicine specialist at NYU. “Individuals whose disease is found at early stages of development through opportunistic screenings have less invasive treatments, reducing treatment-related morbidity, and there is also the opportunity for better long-term outcomes.”
The new website www.checkyourmouth.org launched by OCF provides the knowledge and identifies the tools needed to recognize and find early symptoms of the disease through a very simple visual and tactile process. This would prompt a person who finds suspect areas in their mouths that are persisting for over two weeks, to then seek further evaluation from a dental professional. With a step-by-step video, access to a very effective and inexpensive intra-oral light from Throat Scope, one of the foundations’ partners, and examples of abnormalities to look for, this interactive campaign’s objective is to reduce difficult to treat, late-stage oral cancer discoveries that have poor outcomes. (Throat Scope available here http://www.ocfstore.org/Default.asp)
Oral cancer is incredibly deadly, killing one person in America every hour of every day, 24-7-365. In 2018 the foundation predicts there will be approximately 51,550 individuals diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer. Of those newly diagnosed today, only about 60% will be alive in 5 years. The high fatality rate is largely due to the late discovery of the disease. To compound the problem, a national screening policy is not in place, and many individuals are not even aware that oral cancer is a significant and increasingly common issue in the U.S.
“Reaching the general public with a message can be an expensive idea for a small nonprofit like OCF”, says Brian Hill, the foundation’s executive director who is also a survivor of a late-stage oral cancer. To help meet that challenge, the Oral Cancer Foundation has engaged two key strategic partners, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) and the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA), whose combined membership exceeds 200,000 dental hygienists in the U.S. and Canada. “Our partner organizations and the members they represent have been long-time leaders of performing oral cancer screenings as a part of the services they provide to patients. These organizations have been champions of routine visual and tactile screenings, and through ongoing advocacy efforts have made them part of the routine screenings dental hygienists perform,” said Brian Hill. Now the foundation looks to these long-term partners in screening to introduce their patient populations to the idea of self-exams at home between professional appointments, and expose them to the “Check Your Mouth™” concept and website.
Self-examination has become a major part of the general cancer conversation. Other cancer organizations have created campaigns to encourage people to discover abnormalities early; notable examples are a program to discover deadly melanoma skin cancers early, and self-exams through breast palpation for breast cancers. With the measurable impact of early discovery in other forms of cancer, the Oral Cancer Foundation has moved forward with a similar objective. Like melanoma, oral cancers and their premalignant tissue changes are often easily visible with the naked eye. The model is not so different, with a learning curve that is short and simple to become effective, and an examination process that can be accomplished in about 5 minutes.
While OCF educates and encourages the public to learn the common risk factors mostly found in lifestyle choices such as smoking for oral cancer and avoid them, they cannot stop oral cancer from happening. Clearly finding it early is the next best idea. “Check Your Mouth™” when combined with regular professional screening, is a campaign with the objective of producing better long-term outcomes, which is a very tangible opportunity we can capitalize on today.