Kentucky’s rates are especially high
KENTUCKY HAS ONE of the nation’s highest incidences of oral cancer, and the key to improving survival rates is early detection and getting patients into treatment.
All adults should have a professional oral cancer screening at least once a year, even if they have no teeth. Oral cancer screenings are fast, easy and efficient—and they save lives.
The five-year survival rate for people with localized oral cancer is 81%. The survival rate drops to 39% when the cancer has metastasized, or spread, to other areas.
The University of Kentucky College of Dentistry is working on a project to reverse the high rates of cancer in the commonwealth, focusing on eastern Kentucky, where oral cancer rates are more than 50% higher than the state’s above-average norm. The Eradicate Oral Cancer in Eastern Kentucky project is funded through a $1 million grant from the United Health Foundation.
The project has completed nearly 2,000 screenings, double its initial goal. It takes an all-hands-on-deck approach, using community education, outreach events and partnerships to extend its impact. Local partnerships are essential to encourage more conversations about oral cancer in communities.
Oral cancer can strike anyone, but leading risk factors include smoking, chewing tobacco, excessive alcohol consumption and infection with certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV). This puts Kentuckians at a higher risk for oral cancer. According to the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings, almost a quarter of Kentucky adults smoke and nearly as many report excessive drinking. Kentucky also has the highest rate of HPV-related cancers in the United States.
DR. PAMELA A. VAN ARSDALL is a professor in the UK College of Dentistry and grant education director for the Eradicate Oral Cancer in Eastern Kentucky project, and DR MELVIN YEOH is a professor in the UK College of Dentistry and director for the Eradicate Oral Cancer in Eastern Kentucky project.