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Dentist builds awareness about oral cancer

July 09, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Oral Cancer Walks
A sweet memory: Dr. Josephine Chang Pallotto, with her mother, Susan Chang, following her 2011 graduation from New York. Susan Chang died in 2016 after a diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer.
When Dr. Josephine Chang Pallotto organized a 5K walk in 2017 to honor the memory of her mother, Susan Chang, who died as a result of a head and neck cancer in 2016, she remembers thinking at the time, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

She persevered, and dozens of supporters and community members came out to the Lansing, Illinois, event at a public high school and donated money to research for a cure.

On Aug. 25, with some experience under her belt, Dr. Pallotto will again honor her mother through another walk. This time, however, it’s moved near downtown Chicago with support from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Chicago Dental Society. The ADA will also be represented with a team there.

“This location will reach a lot more people,” said Dr. Pallotto. “This is my way of trying to create awareness on a larger scale.”

Those who recognize Dr. Pallotto’s name may remember seeing her speak at the opening session at ADA 2017 – America’s Dental Meeting in Atlanta. There, she shared the story of her parents’ immigration to the U.S. from Taiwan with nothing but a single suitcase for both of them in tow.

Her mother’s diagnosis, stage IV nasopharyngeal carcinoma, came after Dr. Pallotto graduated in 2011 from the New York College of Dentistry. Moved by her mother’s strength in enduring the illness and treatment, and with the desire to help find a cure for other patients of the disease, Dr. Pallotto organized the 2017 walk, which raised thousands of dollars for research.

This year, at least six other similar events are scheduled across the country, said Oral Cancer Foundation president Brian Hill. The money raised benefits oral cancer research.

In many cases, dental offices help support and come out for the events, and there are other instances in which dentists or hygienists help organize the effort.

Mr. Hill, a survivor of stage IV oral cancer, said he is encouraged by organized dentistry’s engagement with creating awareness about oral cancer.

“Dentistry is on the front line of finding oral cancer early,” he said.

To find out more about Dr. Pallotto’s walk or other oral cancer walks, visit OralCancer.org and click on the “events” tab. To view Dr. Pallotto’s oral cancer walk page, visit https://donate.oralcancer.org/event/chicago2018.

The ADA offers dentists resources related to screening for oral cancers.

In 2017, the ADA released a clinical practice guideline for the evaluation of potentially malignant disorders in the oral cavity. To download and read the entire guideline, go to ADA.org/OralCancer.

The ADA Science Institute maintains a webpage on ADA.org about oral cancers, with data about incidence and mortality; information about risk factors, signs and symptoms; as well as links to other resources, including an instructional video demonstrating the patient intraoral and extraoral conventional visual and tactile examination for oral cancer. Visit ADA.org and hover over “Science/Research” and then select “Oral Health Topics.”