Well, here we are YET AGAIN officially in the thick of Oral Cancer Awareness Month…incredibly, it seems like just last week–and not last year–I interviewed Dentistry Today magazine’s Dr. Damon Adams about this nasty and under-addressed disease–and our abysmal rate of progress on offering better odds to the 9,500-plus people it will kill–in the US alone–by April 2017. Check out the Oral Cancer Foundation site’s facts page for more sobering nuggets: http://oralcancer.org/facts/. Unfortunately, there are billions of (TOO MANY) cancer stories on the semi-naked Planet Earth. This is my oral cancer wristband story, and I’m sticking to it.
I got my purple (dark red? mouth-colored? Burgundy!) wristband at the Oral Cancer Foundation booth at the 2014 Greater New York Dental Meeting, and have been wearing it ever since. I exercise with this wristband. I walk with it. I sleep with it. I shower with it. It never comes off. Along with the OCF’s Web URL, it says, “MAKE ORAL CANCER HISTORY”.
If anyone asks me what it is, I tell them the oral cancer ‘numbers’ story above, when I got the wristband, and if they ask how long I’ll wear it, I say “Until we find a cure.”
I wonder (daily!) how long I’ll have to wear it. I have no choice but to wonder. Even if I try to look away…there it is. Right on my wrist. Added to the fact that I’m a dentist and have seen what OC can do, it is like ‘self-inflicted awareness’.
Consider this: awareness is a funny thing–it is highly variable, and not everyone who thinks he or she is aware really IS aware. What does that mean? I guess, first, it’s a caveat against believing huge chunks of what you hear–and often–depending on WHERE–what you read. I’m always asking you–the patient–to do your own research. Go places. Get facts. Learn stuff. See what supports what…what contradicts what…and what flat out doesn’t add up. We at DSS and Healthy Mouth Media continue to look for new ways to empower you to do just that.
Awareness is driven by experience. Almost everyone has had some experience with some type of cancer–whether it’s you, a loved one, a friend–even a pet.
Unfortunately, even actual experience isn’t always 100% TRUTH.
We’ve been waging a “War on Cancer” since 1971. You’ve probably heard that cynical cliche that asserts ‘a sure-fire way to get something to grow out of control is to declare war on it.’ Well, that’s certainly what’s happened with drugs, poverty, homelessness, and in a very real and observable sense, cancer. With only a few exceptions, cancer incidence rates worldwide are going UP, not down.
With few exceptions, mainstream oncology today still treats many cancers using the same tools it used 40 years ago.
If you’ve ever met someone who’s been ‘successfully treated’ for oral cancer, that will give you some idea of conventional cancer treatment at its best.
Check out Say Ahh The Movie–the world’s first oral health documentary for some additional reality checks on oral cancer and much more.
Some cancers are marginally more survivable than they used to be.
But overall, the trends in cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival are worrisome–and far too few people are asking why.
Oral cancer numbers–as I’ve ranted about here before–are remaining pretty much the same…and if you consider incidence of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers, the overall rates are rising, just as with other cancers. And as we saw in my interview last year with Dr. Adams, it’s not just me…or him. There are dental practices that don’t perform oral cancer screenings–even during Oral Cancer Awareness Month.
Most patients don’t even have oral cancer on their radar when they go for their annual or semi-annual dental checkup…something most Americans do more often than than they visit their primary MDs.
Maybe it’s not about an oral cancer wristband. Or ribbons, or T-shirts. Or 5K runs or walks. Or $100-a-head galas. Or people collecting donations. Not that all those things aren’t important–they are. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t wear this piece of plastic. But they’re symbols. Just as symptoms might be considered ‘symbols’ of disease. Unfortunately, treating symptoms comprises most of the things medicine does. Who does the healing? And who tells the real story of how ‘the fight’ is progressing?
Cancer is an industry–a multi billion-dollar-a-year industry. If we are truly aware of the scope and dimensions of a problem like cancer–any kind of cancer–shouldn’t we be asking if concepts like ‘racing for the cure’ or ‘wiping out cancer’ realistically align with the true forces at work in the world of cancer research and treatment philosophies? A new cancer drug can receive FDA fast-track approval if it provides as little as an additional 3 months of survival (almost inevitably followed by death…funny how that works).
Yet cures remain elusive. I’m asking YOU to ask WHY that might be.
Maybe it’s really not about an oral cancer wristband at all…
Maybe it’s about how human beings really do things…or don’t.
My opinion? The culture of medicine in general (yes, folks–dentistry included)–especially here in the United States–is not prevention-focused. If we were any good at preventing cavities, caries likely wouldn’t be the world’s most prevalent disease.
But it is.1
Mainstream medicine does virtually nothing to address the toxins we’re absorbing from our environment and–of critical importance–from our GLORIOUS AMERICAN DIET!
To the Western allopathic medical mindset, the causes of cancer don’t figure prominently in treating it–and preventing cancer usually takes the form of ‘Don’t smoke, don’t drink…or at least don’t drink a LOT…worst of all, don’t smoke AND drink…be sure to exercise, take your meds, and eat a low-fat diet’…
…that last part really makes my skin crawl…suffice it to say, key players are now admitting we got the whole ‘fat thing’ wrong…
…but sadly, patients will likely still hear ‘eat low fat’ for years to come–but check out Eat Fat, Get Thin by Dr. Mark Hyman for a good start to your research–a recent voice of sanity and REALITY on dietary fat–AND a free Q&A video. More on fat and cancer later.
The environmental toxicity angle on cancer, of course, remains ‘unproven’. More on that later too…
Other than those incredible basics, health care in general doesn’t show a high interest level in WHY cancer happens, and all the wonderful epigenetic mechanisms that are only now getting the attention they deserve in regard to how our environments affect the ever-changing activities of our genomes. On an even more basic level, the US health-care machine does precious little to really care about how we FEEL…and to address the profound impact our core emotional health–or lack of it–can have on our likelihood of developing cancer. On those fronts, we are essentially on our own. So roll up your sleeves, folks, and continue that research.
I’ll be posting on various oral-cancer-related topics during the remainder of April, including interview material you won’t want to miss–and early, EARLY detection tests available to your dentist RIGHT NOW that might actually increase your odds of preventing OC–so you or a loved one won’t ever have to ‘hold out for “the cure” ‘.
Until next time…
…Still wearing the wristband.
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1Kassebaum NJ, Bernabé E, Dahiya M, Bhandari B, Murray CJ, Marcenes W. Global burden of untreated caries: a systematic review and metaregression. J Dent Res. 2015 May;94(5):650-8. doi: 10.1177/0022034515573272.