Noon Ceremony will be held at Museum of Dentistry
Two specialists in head and neck cancer at the University of Maryland Medical Center will be among seven people honored as "Champions Against Oral Cancer" on Thursday, September 20, at 12 noon. The awards presentation, at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, is sponsored by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and will be held in conjunction with Oral Cancer Awareness Week, September 16-22.
Receiving the honor will be Robert Ord, M.D., D.D.S., who heads the Division of Oral-Maxillofacial Surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center and is also a professor at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. He has taken a leading role in public education projects aimed at raising community awareness of how to prevent oral cancers and detect them at their earliest and most treatable stages.
Dr. Ord's colleague, Dr. Remy Blanchaert Jr., M.D., D.D.S., director of Maxillofacial Microsurgery at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, will also receive a "Champions Against Oral Cancer" award.
Drs. Ord and Blanchaert co-authored a recent book, Oral Cancer: The Dentist's Role in Diagnosis, Management, Reconstruction and Prevention. It was written for community dentists whose partnerships are critical in the early detection and treatment of oral cancer, the most frequently diagnosed form of head and neck cancer.
Last year, Dr. Ord spearheaded a free screening program in which hundreds of people in underserved areas of Hagerstown, Rockville, Salisbury and Frederick were able to have access to early detection and treatment. "People need more knowledge," Dr. Ord says, stating the impetus behind his public service and outreach efforts.
Both Drs. Ord and Blanchaert speak at community events and are active participants in the free oral cancer screening programs targeting underserved communities. "Through this program, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, we try to help community practitioners in terms of learning what to look for and how to perform an oral exam. The data indicate that most oral cancers are, in fact, first observed by dentists. But even those are often detected at an advanced stage," says Dr. Ord.
Statewide, about 550 to 600 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed annually. More than 70 percent of cases are in an advanced stage by the time they are diagnosed.
An estimated 90 percent of oral cancers are linked to heavy cigarette smoking and/or drinking. Most patients are diagnosed in their 50's or at older ages. Men outnumber women by at least three to two. Oral cancers usually grow slowly and are 80-90 percent curable if detected and treated early. Dr. Ord encourages people to examine themselves, looking for unexplained white or red patches, not just on their gums and tongue but under the tongue, as well.
"Many oral cancers are initially asymptomatic," says Dr. Ord, "meaning there is no pain or lump, necessarily." Sometimes when people inform their doctors about suspicious symptoms, they are prescribed antibiotics instead of receiving a more thorough exam to look for oral cancers.
Advances in the fight against oral cancer include a "brush biopsy" that allows dentists to scrape cells in a non-invasive procedure for cancer screening. Patients who once would have been left with difficulty speaking, eating and swallowing now are candidates for reconstructive surgery that leaves them less visibly scarred and more able to function normally.
Treatments have also improved. "Most of our patients today do not need permanent tracheotomies and most are happy with their appearance," says Dr. Ord, who is part of a multi-disciplinary team of specialists who care for patients with head and neck cancer at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center. The team includes otolaryngologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, speech pathologists, psychologists and other health care professionals.
And although death rates have remained fairly steady over the last three decades, Dr. Ord points out that there have been significant improvements in quality of life for people diagnosed with oral cancer. Most fatalities due to oral cancer today are attributed to either a second primary cancer or to a spread of the cancer, whereas several decades ago, a patient would have died from an advanced localized cancer with much more severe and debilitating side effects.
People diagnosed with oral cancer who continue to smoke and drink have a six percent risk of developing a second cancer annually, which means a 60 percent chance within a 10-year span.
Note: Two oral cancer survivors will speak during the Champions Against Oral Cancer awards presentation. Other award recipients include David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., U.S. Surgeon General; Senator Gloria Lawlaw, District 26, Prince George's County; Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, District 10, Baltimore City & Baltimore County; Alice Horowitz; Ph.D., Senior Scientist, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; and Fred Magaziner, D.D.S., MAGD, Private Practitioner.
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