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The Oral Cancer Screening Exam: The Urgent Need for Change

Presented by Jo-Anne Jones





Over 48,000 Americans will be newly diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer in 2016, with the rate of occurrence having increased for more than a decade now. The majority of oral and oropharyngeal cancer is discovered in the later stages. Due to late stage discovery, little more than 50% of those diagnosed today will be alive in five years.

For many years, we had a sense of defining the smoker and heavy drinker as being at risk for oral and oropharyngeal cancer. Although smoking and alcohol are still considered high risk factors, the fastest growing segment of the oral/oropharyngeal cancer population is a much younger profile, HPV-positive, and often a non-smoker. HPV (Human papillomavirus) is the same virus responsible for the majority of cervical cancers. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women will contract the virus at some point in their lives.

This has alerted both the medical and the dental community to take action. Research indicates that if current trends continue, HPV-related oral and oropharyngeal cancer rates will surpass those of cervical cancer by the year 2020.

It is imperative that our dental hygiene community understand how this information impacts the oral cancer screening we perform each day. Today’s dental hygienist must have the knowledge and the skill set to effectively address this changing profile in clinical practice.

We are stronger together. In a few minutes, we have the opportunity to save a life through earlier discovery. It’s within our hands.


  • Understand the implications of a persistent HPV infection and its connection with oral and oropharyngeal cancer.
  • Comprehend the steps necessary to perform an effective extraoral and intraoral examination, with attention to high risk anatomical areas.
  • Recognize the subtle symptoms that may accompany HPV-oropharyngeal cancer, and how identifying them could save a life.
  • Learn about the educational resources available to communicate the current oral/oropharyngeal cancer risk factors.