Oral cancer awareness survey reveals greater need for education, screening tools among U.S. adults

April 7, 2015

Among 1,050 U.S. consumers, the majority knows little or nothing at all about oral cancer (68 percent) and only 36 percent reported being screened for oral cancer at their last dental checkup, according to findings from a survey released by Vigilant Biosciences, Inc., a leading innovator and developer of solutions that aid in the early detection and intervention of cancer.

Among 1,050 U.S. consumers, the majority knows little or nothing at all about oral cancer (68 percent) and only 36 percent reported being screened for oral cancer at their last dental checkup, according to findings from a survey released by Vigilant Biosciences, Inc., a leading innovator and developer of solutions that aid in the early detection and intervention of cancer.

The online survey polled 1,050 U.S. consumers on their knowledge of risk factors and preferences for screening for oral cancer. Survey respondents included men and women ages 35-75. The findings were released in conjunction with Oral Cancer Awareness Month, which is observed annually in April.

The survey found consumers want to learn more about how to prevent oral cancer and are interested in simple, effective screening tools to assess their risk.

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"This survey's findings truly demonstrate the need for greater awareness and education around this deadly disease, as well as the desire for increased screening," said Matthew H.J. Kim, founder, chairman and CEO of Vigilant Biosciences. "Hundreds of thousands continue to be diagnosed with late-stage oral cancer every year, but we can reduce those numbers and hopefully the number of associated late-stage cancer deaths, by improving patients' lives through early detection and a commitment to engage in conversations about risk factors. National Oral Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to begin this dialog."

Key findings of the survey are below. An executive summary of the survey and an infographic can be found at vigilantbiosciences.com.

Screening for oral cancer
While just over a third of those surveyed recall being screened for oral cancer at their last dental checkup, a large majority would like to be screened at every check-up and would like their dentist to use simple screening tools to assess their risk. Among notable findings:

  • Only 36 percent reported being screened for oral cancer at their last dental checkup.

  • Over 80 percent of respondents would like to be screened for oral cancer at every dental checkup.

  • 85 percent would like the option to be screened for oral cancer with a simple rinse and spit test that would assess early risk factors specifically associated with oral cancer and provide information on increased or decreased risk for developing oral cancer. Many of those screened would be willing to pay $25 or more for this screening.

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Continue to Page 2 for more findings ...

Risk factors for oral cancer
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, tobacco use and alcohol consumption are behaviors associated with the highest risk for developing oral cancer. Another risk factor includes exposure to the HPV-16 virus. While the majority of survey respondents recognized smoking as a leading risk factor for oral cancer, many did not know that exposure to the HPV virus was also a risk factor. Among notable findings:

  • Less than 24 percent recall talking to their dentist about oral cancer risks at their last dental check-up.

  • 34 percent of respondents were unaware that HPV is a risk factor for oral cancer.

  • More than 78 percent want their dentist to help them learn ways to reduce their risk of developing oral cancer.

Consumers also underestimated the death rate for oral cancer. Only 16 percent of those surveyed were aware that 40 percent of people diagnosed with oral cancer die within five years, with most believing the five-year survival rate to be higher.

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"Regular screening and early detection are absolutely essential in the fight against oral cancer," said Dr. John Comisi, D.D.S., M.A.G.D, chief dental officer for Vigilant Biosciences. "Given that early diagnosis can more than double a person's chances of survival, it is critical that both patients and their dentists take action to avoid late-stage detection. Any steps we can take to raise awareness about this issue and enhance screening practices will help us increase the survival rate for oral cancer."

About oral cancer
According to the World Health Organization, there are over 600,000 new cases of head and neck cancer and 300,000 deaths each year worldwide. In the United States, more than 54,000 individuals were diagnosed with head and neck cancers in 2014, with 13,500 deaths from the disease. Historically, the death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high due to late-stage diagnosis and intervention. Currently, the vast majority of patients are detected through a visual exam and/or are symptomatic, at which point they are likely late-stage. As a result, oral cancer often goes undetected to the point of metastasizing. Early diagnosis of oral cancer results in a cure rate of up to 90 percent.

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