Oral Cancer Kills Someone in the United States Every Hour of Every Day: Delta Dental Encourages Americans to Request Oral Cancer Exams from Dentists in Recognition of National Oral Cancer Awareness Week (April 16-22)

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Approximately 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year, and approximately 8,000 die as a result. With one life lost every hour, oral cancer claims more lives than cervical cancer, brain cancer, skin cancer and Hodgkin's disease. In recognition of National Oral Cancer Awareness Week (April 16-22), Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana (Delta Dental) encourages patients to request an oral cancer exam during their regular checkup.



It's crucial for people to ask their dentist for an oral cancer exam during their regular checkup. We also encourage more dentists to adopt use of the brush biopsy.

    Oral cancer exams are quick, painless and involve an evaluation of the mouth, gums, throat and tongue by a licensed dentist using a piece of gauze to move the tongue from side-to-side. A revolutionary tool called the OralCDx brush biopsy can catch oral cancer in its early stages, or even as a precancerous lesion. The test is painless and involves merely rubbing the brush against a suspicious red or white spot in the mouth to collect a cell sample. Delta Dental is one of the first dental benefits providers in the U.S. to add coverage of the brush biopsy to its core group of covered services.

"We know few people are even aware of this deadly, yet preventable disease," said Dr. Jed Jacobson, senior vice president of professional services and chief science officer at Delta Dental. "It's crucial for people to ask their dentist for an oral cancer exam during their regular checkup. We also encourage more dentists to adopt use of the brush biopsy."

OralCDx Laboratories, Inc. of New York holds a patent on the brush biopsy, approved in 2000 by the Federal Drug Administration. The brush biopsy is based on the technology used in the Star Wars anti-missile system. It detects precancerous and cancerous cells in healthy tissue the same way the defense satellites were designed to detect real missiles from decoys.

Although oral cancer is among the most deadly forms of cancer, few people are aware of the risks. A recent EPIC-MRA Omnibus survey of 600 Michigan adults revealed little-to-no awareness of oral cancer, or its signs and symptoms. The study also showed that when respondents were asked to list three forms that cancer can take, not one person named oral cancer.

Early detection saves lives

Like many cancers, the key to surviving oral cancer is early detection. Detecting oral cancer in its early stages is imperative and can dramatically increase the five-year survival rate from approximately 57 percent to 81 percent.

Dentists play a crucial role in calling attention to some of oral cancer's common symptoms by performing an oral cancer exam on patients. Symptoms include:

-- Red or white spots that appear on the gums, cheeks or under the tongue

-- Swelling of the tongue or throat

-- A lump in the mouth or neck

-- Painful or difficulty swallowing or chewing

-- Numbness in the mouth region

-- Vocal hoarseness that lasts for an extended time

-- Tiny marks that resemble canker sores

-- Sores that bleed and don't heal (in later stages)

Who is at risk?

Oral cancer is most common in men, African Americans, adults over 40, smokers and heavy alcohol drinkers. However, one out of four cases occur in non-smokers and people under age 30. Other causes include too much sun exposure to the lips and poor diet. Over the past several years, there has been an increase in the number of young people and women developing oral cancer who do not have traditional risk factors.

Oral cancer treatment and cost savings from early detection

In addition to saving lives, early detection has the potential to significantly reduce medical treatment costs. Oral cancer is one of the most expensive forms to treat, with an advanced case costing upward of $200,000. Patients with oral cancer treated in its early stages face less chances of post-treatment disfigurement. When detected early, treatment tends to be more conservative, producing fewer complications and permanent disfigurements.

More information

For more information about Delta Dental and benefits of the brush biopsy, visit http://www.deltadentalmi.com

Delta Dental of Michigan, with its affiliates in Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, are members of Renaissance Health Service Corporation, a family of companies that combined is one of the largest dental plan administrators in the nation. In 2006, the enterprise paid more than $1.7 billion for dental care for more than 6.2 million enrollees. Offices are located in Okemos, Farmington Hills, and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Nashville, Knoxville, and Memphis Tennessee.

(Editor's note: Dr. Jacobson is available for interviews. Please contact Nikki Stephan at (313) 567-5029, or Geoff Schwartz at (313) 567-5008).

Sources: Oral Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society and EPIC-MRA 600-sample statewide survey of Michigan residents conducted in September and October 2006.

Click here to download a high resolution version of Dr. Jacobson's oral cancer comments and a demonstration of the OralCDx brush biopsy

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Nikki Stephan
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