10 minutes that could save your life

Free Oral Cancer Screenings being offered to the public

The following is the first of two articles aimed at raising awareness of oral cancer, in light of April being cancer awareness month.

The Comox Valley Dental Hygiene Society is offering Free Oral Cancer Screenings to the public on May 2 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in Courtenay and Campbell River.

Dr. Paul Helpard will  provide a clinical setting at Shoreline Orthodontics in both communities.

Location in Courtenay is 1520 Cliffe Ave., Suite 100; and in Campbell River, 520 2nd Ave., Suite 200.

Funding for this project is provided by the Comox Valley Dental Hygiene Society and a grant from the British Columbia Dental Hygienists’ Association.

Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world with new cases exceeding 640,000 annually. Yet despite advances in technology and treatment the long term survival rate of 63 per cent after five years has improved only marginally over the last two decades.

In the U.S., more than 100,000 people are diagnosed each year with oral, head and neck cancers claiming approximately 14,000 lives per year.

In Canada, more than  4,000 individuals are diagnosed each year with oral cancer and more than 1,000 will die from it.

According to the BC Cancer Agency, in BC between 2013 and 2028 there will be a 48% increase in Oral Cancer cases and a 16% increase in death due to Oral Cancer.

Traditionally, oral cancer has been associated with tobacco usage and the majority of oral cancer victims smoke or use chewing tobacco, consume alcohol, and are over 40.

These cancers are usually found within the oral cavity, sides of the tongue and the floor of the mouth.

But…the group experiencing the highest growth rate of oral cancer incidence does not fit this traditional “at risk” profile.

More and more, oral cancer is striking younger people who don’t use tobacco or abuse alcohol.

In many cases the cause appears to be one of two  strains of the Human Papilloma Virus, HPV-16 and HPV-18.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. and likely the world.

These cancers are found in the back of the throat around/behind the tonsils and the base of the tongue.

Early indicators of oral cancer may include red and/or white discolourations on the soft tissues of the mouth, any sore that doesn’t heal within 14 days, or hoarseness which lasts for a prolonged period of time.

Advanced signs can include difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving your tongue, a feeling that something is caught in your throat, changes to your voice, a lump on your neck, ear pain on one side only, or a sore/lump under a denture that doesn’t heal even after adjustments.

When diagnosed early, these cancers can be more easily treated without significant complications and the five-year survival rate increases to 80 per cent.

Being screened for oral cancer takes less than 15 minutes.

It includes a Head and Neck exam which inspects/palpates (feels) the face, neck, collar bones and an examination inside the mouth inspecting the soft tissue, palate, and back of the throat.

Local dental hygienists are ready to to do a screening for you May 2nd.

Further information about oral cancer, HPV and smoking cessation will be provided at the screenings.

To book an appointment time, contact Monica at cvdhsociety@gmail.com or  call 250-334-0669. Drop-ins are also welcome.


Information for this article is sourced from Dr. Denise Laronde (UBC), BC Cancer Agency, the Oral Cancer Foundation (USA), Head and Neck Cancer Alliance (USA).