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'Invaluable' symposium gives dentists a look at their role in cancer prevention

September 22, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Dr. Alice Boghosian's patients routinely get a head and neck exam when they visit her office for cleanings or treatment.

A Park Ridge, Illinois, dentist and a clinical instructor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, Dr. Boghosian said checking for signs of oral cancers and making a referral when appropriate has always been a part of her practice protocol.

But the issue never hit home more than about four years ago, when her close friend, a fellow dentist, was diagnosed with HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer.

Because of her friend's diagnosis, "I had the chance to observe the entire disease from start to finish."

She said the experience underscored the "huge role" dentists can play not only in screening for the disease, but also in its management.

To help other dental professionals understand how they fit in with oncologists, head and neck surgeons and other health professionals when it comes to helping patients with oropharyngeal cancer, experts from the ADA, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Chicago Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will speak at a symposium preceding ADA 2017 – America's Dental Meeting.

Working Together Against Oropharyngeal Cancer is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 18. Registration includes 5 hours of continuing education credits, a luncheon, a networking break and an all-access pass to ADA 2017 — America's Dental Meeting. To ensure all those who are interested can attend and be part of the conversation, the ADA in September reduced the registration fee to $175 for all participants. To register, visit ADA.org/ADA17OralCancer.

Dr. Boghosian, who said her friend is now free of cancer, said the symposium "could be invaluable" as a way for dental professionals to get the latest science, research and statistics on oropharyngeal cancer and learn how to be part of prevention and treatment solutions.

The symposium is a result of a collaboration announced earlier this year between the ADA and MD Anderson. Symposium presenters include physicians and dentists associated with the ADA and the cancer center.

The topic is especially relevant, Dr. Boghosian said, because HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers are rising in the U.S. at "epidemic proportions." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is thought to cause 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers in the U.S. This topic will be covered at the symposium by Erich Sturgis, M.D., a professor in the department of head and neck surgery and department of epidemiology at MD Anderson.

Other topics covered include the HPV vaccination; cervical cancer; emerging treatments of oropharyngeal cancer and their long-term impact; and two sessions on the dentist's role.

The symposium will wrap up with a survivors panel, which includes Sandra Wexler, an oropharyngeal cancer survivor from Houston who credits her dentist with saving her life after a head and neck screening during a routine checkup.

Dr. Boghosian said the symposium could be a meaningful way for dentists to be introduced to this subject and get the insight she gleaned through witnessing her friend's cancer experience, such as how to comfort patients enduring harsh side effects of treatment and help them manage the disease successfully.

"Yes, you want to eliminate the cancer, but you'd like to keep your teeth while you're doing it," she said. "Dentists play a critical role in that."

For more information on the symposium or to register, visit ADA.org/ADA17OralCancer.