Study Finds Most Adults Unaware of Oral Cancer Risk

Study Finds Most Adults Unaware of Oral Cancer Risk

At our Eugene family dental practice, we understand the impact an oral cancer diagnosis can have on our patients’ lives. Over 49,000 people in the U.S. will receive an oral cancer diagnosis this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, 62 percent of adults in the U.S. know little to nothing about the disease – including cancer of the pharynx, larynx, tongue, and mouth – and only 29 percent report undergoing an oral cancer screening during their last dental checkup, according to a joint survey conducted by the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance and Oral Cancer Foundation.

Released in conjunction with Oral Cancer Awareness Month, the survey polled over 500 adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 to 75 on their understanding and thoughts regarding oral cancer screenings and oral cancer. The study found that over 77 percent of U.S. adults desire to learn more about how to lower their risk of oral cancer and are interested in the development and use of easy to use screening tools that test for early indicators of the disease.

The survey also highlighted how little adults in the U.S. know about the different risk factors for oral cancer, particularly the link between the disease and HPV. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that up 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers may be linked to HPV, the survey found that 59 percent of adults in the U.S. were unaware that HPV is even a risk factor for the disease.

“Oral, head, and neck cancer – particularly HPV-related – is increasing at an alarming rate and, given that the symptoms are hard to identify, many people are not diagnosed until the cancer has progressed to a late stage,” states Holly Boykin, executive director of the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance. “Early detection is critical and may impact the complexity of the treatment of these cancers. By working together with other advocacy organizations and the medical and dental community, we can help save lives through early detection and a commitment to raising awareness about these cancers.”

Oral Cancer Screenings & Education Are Key

Even though only 29 percent of those surveyed recalled receiving an oral cancer screening during their last dental appointment, 81 percent said they would like to receive a screening during every checkup. Additionally, 79 percent would prefer screenings include a simple to use test that could potentially raise any red flags for oral cancer. Finally, only 5 percent of those surveyed reported ever requesting an oral cancer exam from their dentist. Of those who have never requested a screening, the majority were unaware they should, could, or even thought about it in advance of their appointment.

Alcohol and tobacco use continue to rank as some of the highest known risk factors for the development of oral cancer. While the majority of survey participants identified tobacco use as a risk factor for the disease, many were unaware of other risk factors, including HPV. Of the participants diagnosed with HPV, only 36 percent viewed themselves as having a higher risk for oral cancer. Under 5 percent of those surveyed had discussed the link between oral cancer and HPV with their dentist, and only 20 percent reported having their dentist speak with them about oral cancer risk factors during their last appointment.

Possibly the most significant discovery, survey participant significantly underestimated oral cancer’s death rate. Just 17 percent of those surveyed were aware that 40 percent of patients diagnosed with oral cancer die within 5 years, often due to the late-stage diagnosis of the disease, with the majority believing the 5-year mortality rate to be much lower. Early detection of the disease during stage one or two typically produces a 90 percent survival rate. If diagnosed with the disease, 69 percent of the survey’s respondents reported they would seek out a support group to join.

Understanding Your Risk

At our Eugene family dental practice, Dr. Feldmanis strives to help educate all of our patients about their risks of oral cancer. If you have any questions about the disease, or would like to know more about the screening process, please feel free to talk to any member of our staff during your next appointment.

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