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Oropharyngeal cancer in spotlight at symposium

November 06, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Photo of oral cancery symposium attendees
Sharing their story: Bert Noojin and Sandra Wexler listen at the Joint Symposium on Working Together Against Oropharyngeal Cancer Oct. 18. Both were part of the Survivors Panel, along with Joseph Averette.  Photo by EZ Event Photography
Atlanta — More than 80 dentists, physicians and others gathered Oct. 18 for a first-of-its-kind event discussing how to prevent and manage oropharyngeal cancer.

The ADA and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center presented the Joint Symposium on Working Together Against Oropharyngeal Cancer. Dr. Marcelo Araujo, ADA Science Institute vice president, who also moderated a session, opened the gathering by calling the event "a pivotal moment of our profession."

At the six-hour session, audience members heard from experts on the latest available statistics related to the disease, HPV and its relation to the cancer and the long-term impact of current therapies, such as aspiration and cranial neuropathies. The presentations are available to review online at

The symposium is a result of a collaboration announced earlier this year between the ADA and MD Anderson.

Presenter Erich Sturgis, M.D., a head and neck surgeon at MD Anderson, focused his discussion on the importance of ensuring boys receive the HPV vaccine, which can prevent the infections that can lead to cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is thought to cause 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers in the U.S.

Oropharyngeal cancer is "nine times more common in men than women," he said.

Dr. Melinda Wharton, acting director at the National Vaccine Program Office within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also presented and discussed the HPV vaccine, highlighting that only about 60 percent of adolescent boys and girls nationally have received one or more doses of the vaccine. The CDC recommends children receive two doses of the HPV vaccine at ages 11-12.

During a lively Q&A session, a big part of the discussion focused on the reluctance, often on the part of parents, but sometimes also on the part of health care professionals, to discuss or administer the vaccine.

Dr. Wharton also addressed misinformation about the vaccine's safety that influences some patients. In some cases, reassurance from experts stating facts "may not be enough" to change these patients' ideas, she said.

"Let them know that you care about them," she said. "You're not making this recommendation because the state made you or the manufacturer made you. You're doing it because you care about them. You want their child to be protected from cancers."

For Dr. Ed Coryell, who oversees a general practice residency program in Asheville, North Carolina, the symposium offered an opportunity to learn and pass on the latest statistics and information related to the disease to the residents.

Dr. Coryell, who said he became passionate about the topic of HPV and oropharyngeal cancer after hearing someone he called a "local champion nurse" talk about the issue, said he feels dental professionals have an "obligation" to tackle the issue with their health care colleagues.

"We have to work as a team," he said.

Dr. Celia Ann Reed, a dentist from Atlanta, said attending the symposium seemed like a "no brainer" for her.

"It's great to meet with anybody from MD Anderson who is studying this," she said.

The six-hour symposium also featured Dr. Mark Lingen, who led a session about the Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline for the Evaluation of Potentially Malignant Disorders in the Oral Cavity, which was published in the October issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association. Dr. Lingen, Ph.D., an oral and maxillofacial pathologist and professor of pathology at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, was chair of the guideline's expert panel.

Dr. Theresa Hofstede, associate professor in the department of head and neck surgery at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, shared information about oral and mandibular toxicities of radiotherapy; and Dr. Dave Preble, vice president of the ADA Practice Institute, brought the scientific session to a close with practical aspects of cancer prevention in the dental office.

Symposium participants also heard from a survivors panel, featuring health providers from MD Anderson and three people affected by the disease, including Sandra Wexler, a Houston woman who credits her dentist (Dr. Dorothy Paul) with saving her life after a head and neck screening during routine checkup.