Oral Cancer Awareness Month: ‘We have a duty to discuss HPV with our patients’
To my fellow members:
As we mark Oral Cancer Awareness Month this April, let’s discuss an issue that has personal significance to me. I have been a practicing dentist for nearly four decades and received the surprise of my life four years ago when I was diagnosed with oral cancer that had metastasized to a cervical lymph node. My cancer was caused by HPV 16. While I am unsure how I came into contact with the virus, what matters most is that we have a duty to discuss HPV with our patients.
Could we put signs in our reception areas suggesting the HPV vaccine? Share brochures about HPV and oral cancer? I think actions like this could stimulate discussion with patients. In regards to any potential embarrassment or awkwardness for either party, I think, simply put, we need to move past that. As someone who underwent draining treatment for oral cancer, I can assure you there is too much at stake to let embarrassment or awkwardness get in the way of preventing cancer.
While undergoing treatment at the Mayo Clinic and Northwestern University in Chicago, I had numerous discussions about oral cancer with medical professionals. Many think, sadly, that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg and that the number of people with HPV will continue to rise. This will, of course, lead to an increase in HPV-related cancers.
In addition to what we can do at our practices, I hope the ADA continues to work to educate the public about HPV and oral cancer. Our profession needs to be leaders in shedding light on this disease so that we can turn the tide. HPV prevention is cancer prevention and we need to do all we can to encourage our patients to receive the HPV vaccine. Let’s be on the right side of history.
Perhaps you recall the late Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who wrote The Last Lecture after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. He said, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”
I have experience. And I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone. So let’s take commonsense steps together to prevent cancer.
Thank you for your time.
Stephen L. Lucas, D.D.S.
April 18, 2018