Early detection key to survival
Free oral cancer screenings will be offered by dentists on April 1 as part of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society’s education outreach efforts.
Seven dental clinics are taking part: Cayman Dental Services at the Mirco Centre, The Dental Centre at Fidelity Financial Centre, My Island Dentist in Governors Square, Smiles Dental Clinic in Alexander Place, The Strand Dental Clinic, Merren Dental Clinic on Hospital Road, and Pasadora Family Dental Centre in Pasadora Place.
Free throat cancer screenings will also be available at 7 Mile Clinic in Queens Court on West Bay Road and Cayman E.N.T. Associates in Alexander Place in Dorcy Drive. Interested participants should call their chosen dental or ear, nose and throat clinic for screening times, which will be during office hours, with walk-ins welcome.
“Oral cancer is a new topic for us in Cayman, and fortunately our dentists answered our calls for help in raising awareness of this rarely discussed, but fairly common, cancer,” said Jennifer Weber, operations manager at the Cancer Society. “Members of the public are encouraged to visit one of the participating dental clinics to receive their quick and painless screening exam.”
Sixth most common cancer
Oral cancer can develop in any part of the lips, oral cavity or the oropharynx, the part of the throat at the back of the mouth. Falling under the head and neck cancer group, oral cancers make up 85 percent of this group, with approximately 43,250 people diagnosed with oral cancer in the U.S. last year. The number of oral cancer cases detected in the Cayman Islands is not known.
“Oral cancer may not be as well known as other cancers, and yet this type of cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide,” said Dr. Keelin Fox, dentist at The Dental Centre. “It has increased by 42 percent in the U.K. in the last 10 years. The majority of oral cancer cases occur in people aged over 50 years, but recent trends indicate a rising incidence in younger age groups.”
Studies suggest that risk factors for this type of cancer include tobacco and heavy alcohol use, sun exposure, previous history of oral cancer and diet.
Exposure to the HPV-16 virus, which is also responsible for the majority of cervical cancers in women, is also a distinct risk factor for oral cancer. Symptoms vary but can include sores or lesions in the mouth; lumps or thickening of the cheek; difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue; white or red patches within the oral cavity; numbness of the tongue or face; a persistent sore throat and hoarseness; or unexplained loose teeth.
Doctors advise that if any of these symptoms persist for three weeks or more, people should see their doctor or dentist.
Early diagnosis is important, physicians say, with an 80 percent to 90 percent survival rate if discovered at an early stage. However, Dr. Fox said that fewer than half of cases are being diagnosed during this critical time period.
“Late diagnosis results in a more complex treatment with a greater impact on quality of life and overall survival,” she said. “Early detection of mouth cancer is key and greatly improves the chances of survival.”
Dr. Fox, who spearheaded the Cayman screening initiative, was involved in the inaugural Irish Oral Cancer screening day in 2011, and screened a man who was later diagnosed with both oral and lung cancer. He made a full recovery, due in part to early detection.
“This had a profound effect on me,” said Dr. Fox, “and highlighted to me that dentists have an important role to play in the early detection and prevention of this disease.”
“We encourage patients to come forward on April 1 and be proactive with their health,” she added. “A five-minute pain-free exam could save your life.”
Physicians and dentists advise that people should check their mouth regularly and when brushing teeth, watch for any unusual changes; avoid the risk factors for mouth cancer, especially the combination of smoking and heavy alcohol consumption; maintain a healthy diet, high in fruit and vegetables; use a lip balm with sun block if spending a lot of time outdoors, in order to prevent lip cancer.
People who wear dentures are also advised to visit a dentist regularly to undergo a mouth examination.