Raising awareness: Oral cancer

As a new dentist, I hear a lot about the growing concern around head and neck cancers, especially oral cancer. But for me, it’s personal.

Dr. Josephine Chang Pallotto

Dr. Josephine Chang Pallotto

My mother suffered from nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a rare form of head and neck cancer. Tragically, she succumbed to the disease in 2016. I miss her every day, and I am where I am today because of her example. Though scared, she put on a tough face for her family through her treatment. She was the glue that held us together, and I am now trying to be half the woman she was. My work ethic, my demeanor, my compassion for others … I owe it all to her.

I have a unique opportunity as a dentist to honor my mother’s legacy. I’m working to spread the word among dentists and hygienists about the importance of performing an oral cancer screening every time a patient is in the chair. Looking and feeling is the best thing we can do for our patients, and when something looks suspicious, it’s important to schedule the patient for a follow-up appointment to see if the situation has improved or if further investigation of the lesion is needed. Another simple, but powerful thing we can do is educate our patients. We instruct our patients to brush twice a day, and clean between their teeth, so why not also discuss with them the importance of self-exams that include looking over their mouths and feeling for any odd lumps in their neck.

As a proud and grateful daughter, I’m also celebrating Susan Chang by organizing an oral cancer awareness walk/run in her memory. Taking place in my adopted hometown of Lansing, Illinois, participants of the walk/run can receive free oral cancer screenings. If you live in the Chicagoland area, please consider joining us on May 13. You can register and donate here. If you live in the New York City area, check out this walk on April 22 also benefiting the Oral Cancer Foundation.

Thank you for reading my story, and I am excited for all of us to make a difference in the fight against head and neck cancers. We owe it both to our patients, and to all the wonderful people, like my mother, who have lost their battles to this disease.

3 comments

  • Dr. Larry T. Chen DMD

    Dear Dr. Chang Pallotto, I am very touched from your story and encouraged by your efforts. As a retired dentist practicing 37 years in New Jersey, I saw several patients succumbed from nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Although rare in US, NPC is not uncommon in southeast Asia, China and Taiwan. Eating smoked meat, smoked fish and smoker, second hand smoker may contribute to the etiology. One of my patients returned to Taiwan to receive more aggressive radiation therapy survived for more than 10 years. It may be interesting to research differences in treatment. Wish you the best in this special campaign to honor your mother.
    Larry T. Chen DMD, retired ADA Life Member

  • Arnold H. Rosenheck D.M.D.

    Every Dentist can have a large effect on reducing Oral Cancer in our population be simply performing two things when they see a patient:
    A Comprehensive Oral Examination, and if a red or white adherent spot is found, a Brush Biopsy to test the cell’s in these non- suspicions spots for Dysplasia. Only very few will be precancerous, but will the patient you save from advanced cancer be grateful!

    • Dr. Larry T. Chen DMD

      Thank you Dr. Arnold Rosenheck, a great teacher and mentor for life time learning. From Larry Chen (1977 Dental Resident, Middlesex Gen. H. New Jersey)

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