April is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month

Mouth and throat cancers are complex. They are often not viewed as critical, but consider that these forms of cancer take the lives of at least 24 people daily. The longevity of these conditions is about 60% for 5 years. Frequently, these people are living with physical disfigurement, difficulties eating and speaking, and social stigma. The death rate is high in this form of cancer due to being found late in the progress of the disease. A critical piece of prevention is accessing regular dental visits. Dentistry is uniquely skilled to review structures in the mouth and identify abnormalities. The care team that is involved once oral cancer is identified usually adds professionals in oncology, otolaryngology, and oral surgery.

Home health services are critical in the management of oral and pharyngeal cancer. Skilled nursing and speech language pathology services are frequently ordered to support management of recovery after chemotherapy and radiation. Therapy services often address changes to the eating patterns and unique speaking needs that result from physical changes to the mouth and throat. The patient and family often benefit from occupational therapy services to aid in supporting a return to independent living in the home, and social worker services support the psychosocial changes a person may experience after medical interventions that result in physical and image changes. These services are critical for the patient to return to meaningful daily living.

Palliative services may be provided along with home health while the patient is still pursuing curative treatments. The role of the nurse practitioner and medical assistant are to support the patient in navigating a vast healthcare system. They work with the patient to identify changes in wants and needs in the disease progression.

Hospice services are often brought in during the last 6 months of life to support the patient and family. Services at this phase often support the critical decisions made at the end of life. Skilled nursing, social work, chaplain services, and home health aides are critical members of this team. They guide and direct the care to make meaningful living a priority.

If you would like more information on oral cancers, check out oralcancerfoundation.org and aaoms.org