WINCHESTER — Umpqua Community College students assisted Dr. Alexis Atchinson as she conducted free oral cancer screenings at the school.
“It’s nice for us to provide this as a community service,” UCC’s Dental Assisting Program Chair Tamara Loosli said, adding that dental assistants cannot screen for cancer but can alert doctors to anomalies. “It’s an opportunity for our students to help and educate the public.”
Last year, the event did find oral cancer in one of approximately 50 people who came in for a screening.
This year, students were collecting a little more data to figure out exactly how many people were being screened and what was found. Students also hung posters with facts about oral cancers to educate people.
During the screenings, Atchinson scanned the neck, jaw and inside of the mouth of each person. The procedure took about 3 minutes to complete.
“I was done with class and I was just sitting there and they’d asked if I wanted to do it, so I thought ‘Why not help?’,” UCC psychology student Olivia Cardillo said.
Atchinson said oral cancers account for about 3% of overall cancers. She said of the 54,000 people who will be diagnosed this year, only about 50% will survive five years or more.
“It’s not well talked about, it’s not well discussed because it is disfiguring type of cancer,” Atchinson said. “You might think it’s just a little sore on your tongue, but if it doesn’t heal within two weeks you should have your dentist or a physician take a look at it to assess it.”
Some of the early warning signs include sores or lumps that do not go away after two weeks.
“Early recognition is key,” Atchinson said. “It can metastasize to other parts of the body. The earlier we get it, one, it’s less invasive. So any surgery to remove it is going to be less disfiguring and increase the chances of better function.”
Although tobacco and alcohol are traditional risk factors of oral cancer, human papillomavirus, a viral infection that’s passed between people through skin-to-skin contact, has also increased the risk in a younger demographic.
Students in UCC’s dental assistant students helped the dentist with notes and keeping Atchinson moving from one patient to another.