“Although oral cancer is 5 percent of all cancers, the disability associated with it is great. ... [However], the treatment is a lot less difficult when it’s caught early,” said Dr. William Thoms, a radiation oncologist who will be conducting the tests along with Drs. Madhurima Uppalapati, Satyen Mehta and Sanjay Athavale. “... Sometimes for more advanced cancers — I see all too many of these — a typical treatment might be to remove a portion of someone’s jaw and replace that with a metal sort of piece or some other bone graft, have chemotherapy and radiation treatment that might go on for seven weeks, which you have to have a tube in your stomach.
“This is major stuff. Out of all the treatments we do, we spend a lot of resources on these patients, emotionally and monetarily, to help get them through therapy. It’s a real challenge.”
During the free, 10-minute tests from 1 to 5 p.m., Thoms said the physicians will conduct a visual screening, looking for ulcers, white plaque or new growths. Typical symptoms include poorly fitting dentures, new growths inside the mouth that bleed or sores inside the mouth that will not subside. Some of the other warning signs are ear pain, difficulty breathing, soar throat that does not relent, a lump in one’s neck, white or red patches inside the mouth for more than two weeks, persistent hoarseness or change in voice, or persevering swelling or pain in the neck or mouth.
While the two biggest risk factors are tobacco and/or alcohol use, the medical profession also is seeing an increase in younger adults with human papillomavirus-related oral cancers, Thoms said. According to The Hope Center, more than 50,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with cancers of the neck and head in 2012.
“Oral cancer is on the rise unlike many other cancers and I’ll tell you why this is. It has to do with the use of smokeless tobacco,” Thoms said. “The No. 1 risk group is young people. Our schools, this is sort of like a hidden epidemic, because obviously no one can smoke, like stand there on the corner with a cigarette in their mouth, but that doesn’t mean that nicotine addiction goes away. ... So the age of these cancers is dropping dramatically. That’s one point I want to get [across], because the people who come to these things are usually senior citizens. So, for instance, the highest rate of increase is [people in their] 30s and 40s. So [with these] people, this doesn’t happen with just one [smokeless tobacco] packet. What this means is these kids start as teenagers and keep going with it. And it’s still an issue for older people, along with excessive alcohol use being a risk factor as well.
“So we are trying to raise awareness. That’s one reason we’re doing [these screenings]. We are trying to get the word out among at-risk populations, because we don’t see the right population in these screenings. Really, the population I would like to see would be ... parents bringing their teenage kids in. At-risk persons are people using these tobacco products, so you as a parent can help determine that. ... Our real goal would be to really get people to stop using tobacco products and think more about lifestyle issues that might reduce the risk of this.”
Trying to improve a potential cancer patient’s chance of survival, this is the third year The Hope Center has conducted the oral, head and neck cancer screenings.
“Cartersville Medical Center is dedicated to the community and meeting its health needs,” said Wendy Bailey, RN, Oncology Navigator at The Hope Center. “This screening event allows patients, insured or uninsured, the opportunity for a free oral, head and neck cancer screening to aid in identification of early stage cancers and other dental issues. As Oncology Navigator, I provide follow-up and direct participants to appropriate access of care for the medical need that is identified at the screening.
“... The screening evaluates 60 participants. I believe the slots for the event fill quickly due to these difficult economic times when many people in our community are underinsured or uninsured. It’s important to register early by calling MedLine at 800-242-5662.”