The University of Arizona Cancer Center and Banner – University Medicine will observe Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month with an outreach event on Saturday, April 28, in Building 2 at the UA Cancer Center – North Campus, 3838 N. Campbell Ave.
An hour-long educational session begins at 9 a.m. and free public cancer screenings will take place from 10 a.m. to noon. Dental professionals, as well as members of the general public, are invited.
The event will include a raffle, gift bags and healthful snacks. The educational presentation is open to the public, but will be targeted to dental professionals, who will learn about the importance of screening patients for subtypes of head and neck cancer that arise in the oral cavity or the upper part of the throat. After the presentation, UA College of Medicine – Tucson and UA Cancer Center physicians will provide free cancer screenings to the public, demonstrating the technique to dental professionals in private exam rooms. Visitors need no appointment to be screened.
Head and neck cancers describe tumors that can strike anywhere from the lips to the larynx, or voice box, and up into the sinuses and nasal cavity. Subtypes of head and neck cancer, including those that arise in the oral cavity, salivary glands, or the oropharynx (opening of the throat), can be detected when a health-care provider performs a visual inspection inside the mouth, looking for suspicious lesions. Additionally, a manual inspection of the neck can detect signs that other types of head and neck cancer have metastasized. Most people do not receive these screenings, but Margaret Eller, RN, UA Cancer Center head and neck nurse navigator, hopes to engage the dental community, which is uniquely positioned to catch early signs of head and neck cancers and refer patients for follow-up care. Dental checkups should include visual and manual inspections of the oral cavity and neck.
“Each dentist sees about four to five abnormal tissues every day. Not all of these are cancer, but abnormal tissue should be watched carefully and a biopsy taken sooner rather than later. Patients need to obtain follow-up and referrals in a timely manner,” said Eller. “Our goal is to educate the dental community on the importance of screening patients for oral cancer to reduce late-stage diagnosis of this curable and preventable cancer, and also to inform our community about head and neck cancer.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 63,030 Americans were diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2017, and 13,360 people lost their lives to this disease. Although not all head and neck cancers are associated with lifestyle factors, some behaviors can increase an individual’s chances of developing the disease. These risk factors include alcohol use, tobacco use (including smokeless tobacco), poor oral hygiene and missing teeth, and infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (commonly known as HPV).
Screening for head and neck cancer is relatively noninvasive compared to many other types of cancer screening.
“Screening involves a gentle examination of the mouth, tongue, gum and lips,” said Eller. “Our physicians will feel the neck for any lumps and bumps that could be suspicious. If our team finds anything suspicious, patients will be referred for further examination or biopsy at any facility they choose. They don’t have to come to us — we just want our community to be aware and informed.”
Despite the simplicity of screening for oral or oropharyngeal cancer, the practice is not widespread.
“Only 15 to 25 percent of people get oral screenings annually,” said Eller. “That would be like saying only 15 to 25 percent of women over the age of 40 get a mammogram. Everybody should be screened for oral cancer, at least annually, but more often, as needed.”
UA Cancer Center head and neck specialists are looking forward to increasing community awareness of head and neck cancer, and enlisting the dental community in detecting this cancer early through screening.
“This is our first head and neck cancer screening event,” said Eller. “Our head and neck team is excited to introduce themselves and support the Tucson community in finding cancer at an early stage. Come meet the team and get to know who we are.”
The educational presentation will be given by faculty of the UA College of Medicine – Tucson’s Department of Otolaryngology, Department of Radiation Oncology and Division of Hematology/Oncology, including Steven Wang, MD, Julie Bauman, MD, MPH, Shethal Bearelly, MD, and Sun Yi, MD. Sponsors include Syneos Health, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Tactile Medical, and the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance. Gentle Dental will provide toothbrushes and other items.
Individuals do not need to register for the April 28 outreach event, but large groups of more than 20 people or members of a dental group are asked to RSVP to Margaret Eller at Margaret.Eller@bannerhealth.com.
About the University of Arizona Cancer Center
The University of Arizona Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center with headquarters in Arizona. The UACC is supported by NCI Cancer Center Support Grant No. CA023074. With primary locations at the University of Arizona in Tucson and at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, the UACC has more than a dozen research and education offices in Phoenix and throughout the state and 300 physician and scientist members work together to prevent and cure cancer. For more information: uacc.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube)
About Banner – University Medical Center Tucson and South
Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, nationally ranked as a Best Hospital by U.S. News and World Report, and Banner – University Medical Center South, are part of Banner – University Medicine, a premier academic medical network. These institutions are academic medical centers for the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson. Included on the two campuses are Diamond Children’s Medical Center and many specialty clinics. The two academic medical centers are part of Arizona-based Banner Health, one of the largest nonprofit health-care systems in the country, with 28 hospitals in six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming. For more information, visit BannerHealth.com/UniversityTucson or BannerHealth.com/UniversitySouth.