MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – WVU Medicine Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, with assistance from the WVU School of Dentistry, will provide free oral cancer screenings from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 7, at the Otolaryngology Clinic at the Physician Office Center (POC) in Morgantown.

The first week in April is Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer Awareness Week, when many hospitals, clinics, and medical centers around the nation provide free head and neck cancer screenings for community members. 

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head Neck and Surgery, a half-million new cases of oral, head, and neck cancer are diagnosed annually. In the United States, doctors discover 110,000 new cases of oral, head, and neck cancer each year.  

West Virginia ranks fourth in the nation for instances of oral cavity and pharynx cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed West Virginia behind Kentucky, Hawaii, and South Dakota.

“Screening for oral cancer is important for everyone,” Rusha Patel, M.D., WVU Medicine head and neck surgeon, said. “West Virginia has one of the highest rates of oral and smoking tobacco rates in the country – not surprisingly, we also have one of the highest rates of oral cancer in the country.” 

Aside from alcohol consumption and tobacco use, additional risk factors for head and neck cancers include:

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Male over age 50
  • Reflux diseases
  • Poor oral/dental hygiene
  • Environmental/occupational inhalants.

“When found early, oral cancer can be very well treated. Screening events are an important part of cancer detection and education,” Dr. Patel added.

Participants at the April 7 oral cancer screening will be examined by Patel and School of Dentistry Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Diagnostic Sciences Chair Ashok Balasundaram, D.D.S., M.D.S.

Dr. Balasundaram, a radiologist, and a number of dental students have volunteered to administer the oral screening exams, a standard part of their curriculum to become doctors of dental surgery.

In an effort to increase participation in screenings and to raise awareness of oral cancers, WVU Medicine and the WVU School of Dentistry have reached out to rural clinics across the state to encourage a day of free screenings.

At the POC in Morgantown, participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire about their risk factors. An examiner will feel and visually inspect the neck, mouth, and throat. Participants will also learn how to perform self-examinations at home.

The first 20 participants will be entered in a drawing to win a $50 Visa Gift Card.

For more information, join the Annual Oral Cancer Screening Facebook event.