Cancer is defined as the uncontrollable growth of cells that invade and cause damage to surrounding tissue. Oral cancer appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not go away. Oral cancer, which includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat), can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.
As part of your routine dental exam, your dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening exam. More specifically, your dentist will feel for any lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, face, and oral cavity. When examining your mouth, your dentist will look for any sores or discolored tissue as well as check for any signs and symptoms mentioned above.
Your dentist may perform an oral brush biopsy if he or she sees tissue in your mouth that looks suspicious. This test is painless and involves taking a small sample of the tissue and analyzing it for abnormal cells. Alternatively, if the tissue looks more suspicious, your dentist may recommend a scalpel biopsy. This procedure usually requires local anesthesia and may be performed by your dentist or a specialist. These tests are necessary to detect oral cancer early, before it has had a chance to progress and spread.
Mention cancer and most people think breast, lung, or prostate. But the less talked about oral cancer kills nearly half of all people diagnosed with the disease in five years, largely because patients do not recognize the symptoms.
That statistic got Courtney Brady, a second-year dental student at Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine (BUGSDM), and first-year student Dee Gulis thinking about what they could do to get the word out about oral cancer, and they think they found the answer.
Brady and Gulis are leading a team BUGSDM students, faculty, staff, and friends to walk Relay for Life, a 12-hour walk/run event at Boston University Track and Tennis Center from 6 p.m. April 18 to 6 a.m. April 19.
"Too often, oral cancer is pushed off to the side when people talk about cancer," Brady says. "We want to make sure people know that oral cancer can be deadly and that they know the symptoms. It is a disease people need to watch out for."
Brady has invited all other dental schools in the Northeast district 1 of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) to join BUGSDM. Now BUGSDM, Tufts, Harvard, and UConn are vying to recruit the most team members.
"While raising money is important, our goal for this first year is seeing a lot of participation from our school," Brady says. "We want everybody to get involved and see how great this event is and for it to grow into a huge event for BUGSDM each year to come."
The BUGSDM team is adding a unique twist to the event-an oral cancer education booth-which, to Brady and Gulis' knowledge, is the first of its kind at any Relay for Life event nationwide. Walkers from the 100 teams planning to attend Relay for Life can learn about oral cancer between laps around the track.