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Free oral cancer screenings in Harlan on Jan. 31

The University of Kentucky College of Dentistry is working with the Harlan County Health Department to provide free oral cancer screenings. The next session will be on Jan. 31 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Food City in Harlan.

Kentucky has one of the nation’s highest incidences of oral cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. As part of the college’s “Eradicate Oral Cancer in Eastern Kentucky” project, healthcare providers are offering screenings in Pike, Harlan and Letcher Counties, as the prevalence of oral cancer is higher than the state average in these areas. Project efforts are made possible by grant funding from the United Health Foundation (UHF).

In the United States, nearly 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer each year. The survival rate varies greatly depending upon the stage of the disease. For example, if oral cancer is detected in one localized area in the mouth and has not spread, the five-year survival rate is 81 percent. However, if cancer has spread from the tongue to distant regions of the body, the survival rate drops to 39 percent.

Early detection is critical to aid survival rates. Every adult should be screened for oral cancer every year. Getting screened is a simple, quick and painless process and is an effective way to find cancer (or pre-cancer) at an early, more curable stage.

Some people mistakenly think that if they have dentures, they do not need to go to the dentist. Oral cancer could be hiding under a denture, so it is still vital to get an annual oral cancer screening even if you have dentures.

Drinking alcohol and tobacco use (smoking, dipping, chewing, etc.) are known risk factors for oral cancer. Exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV) is another risk factor, causing young, healthy, non-smokers to be diagnosed with oral cancer due to their exposure to the virus.

Early signs of oral cancer include:

• a sore in the mouth or on the lip that doesn’t heal within 14 days;

• red or white patches in the mouth;

• hoarseness of the voice that lingers for a prolonged period.

Other symptoms to mention to a healthcare provider include:

• Feeling like something is stuck in your throat;

• Numbness in the area of the mouth;

• Difficulty swallowing or moving the jaw or tongue;

• Pain in only one ear;

• A sore under a denture, that doesn’t heal, even after a denture adjustment;

• A lump or swelling that develops in the mouth or on the neck.

Being screened for oral cancer is important for every adult. For information about the screening, contact Elena Creech at 606-573-3700 or elenas.creech@ky.gov.

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