It’s time to get screened for cancer

You probably don’t hear the words “good news” and “cancer” in the same sentence very often. Luckily for you, it’s true. While there is no way to completely prevent cancer from occurring, several head and neck cancers that cause death are actually preventable and even more are easily treated when detected early.

Unfortunately, many Americans do not recognize the symptoms of these life-threatening diseases, which include cancers of the oral cavity, thyroid, larynx and pharynx, and by the time they are diagnosed, for some, it’s too late. More than 61,760 Americans will be diagnosed with head and neck (including thyroid) cancer this year.

Head and neck cancers combined account for roughly 3 percent of all the cancer in the nation and claim approximately 13,190 lives per year. However, there is hope; if diagnosed early, these cancers can be more easily treated without significant complications, and the chances of survival greatly increase.

Who should get tested?

Every adult. Tobacco and alcohol users traditionally have been considered the populations at greatest risk for these cancers. However, oral cancer cases are on the rise in younger adults who do not smoke, and recent research indicates this development is due partly to the increase of the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus, a cancer-causing infection that can be transmitted by oral sex. HPV-related oral cancers are more difficult to detect because these cancers usually occur on the back of the tongue or on the tonsils, providing even more reason to get screened regularly.

What are the potential warning signs of oral cancers?

Many times the signs and symptoms of oral cancer go unnoticed. However, there are a few visible signs associated with these cancers that require immediate attention, including:

• A sore in your mouth that doesn’t heal or that increases in size,

• Persistent pain in your mouth,

• Lumps or white or red patches inside your mouth,

• Difficulty chewing or swallowing or moving your tongue,

• Soreness in your throat or feeling that something is caught in your throat,

• Changes in your voice and/or

• A lump in your neck.

If you have any of the above warning signs, do not wait for the free screenings. Seek out the care of your dentist or physician quickly.

How can I get screened locally?

UnityPoint Health — Trinity Cancer Center and Iowa Central Dental Hygiene Clinic will offer free oral cancer screenings in observance of the annual Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer Awareness Week on Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. in the Applied Science & Technology Building at Iowa Central Community College. The screening is painless and only takes about 10 minutes. Several area dentists and health care providers are volunteering their time for this free event.

Why should I get screened?

If the above stats were not reason enough, know that the screening is quick, painless and free, and it’s right around the corner. Given the current state of the economy and rising health care costs, take advantage of the opportunity to benefit from this preventive health measure at no charge by taking 10 minutes to do something that could save your life. Early diagnosis and treatment improves outcomes and chances of survival, particularly for individuals with HPV-related oral cancers.

Please contact us at 574-1327 to sign up for your free oral cancer screening today.

Jonathan R. DeJong, D.D.S., is affiliated with Fort Dodge Oral Surgery and Implant Center. Dr. DeJong is the spokesperson for the free Head and Neck Cancer Screening, Thursday at ICCC.