Author: Susan Wolf

Colleen Zenk Pinter of Redding, an actor who stars as Barbara Ryan on As the World Turns, has partnered with the Oral Cancer Foundation, Yale New-Haven Hospital and Roswell Park Cancer Institute to be a spokesperson for oral cancer. Ms. Pinter was diagnosed with oral cancer in March 2007 and is now cancer-free.

“I had no risk factors for this ‘old man’s cancer,’ she said, but her doctors said hers was probably due to human papilloma virus (HPV), which is most often associated with cervical cancer.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country, and it is estimated that about 70% of American men and women will be infected at some point in their lives.

According to Ms. Zenk Pinter, a growing number of women are being diagnosed with oral cancer, from one in 10 to now a 50-50 split. “The difference is HPV,” she said.

She is a proponent of the Gardasil® vaccine against HPV for both girls and boys. It doesn’t help if only half of the population (girls) is being vaccinated. Why boys? “Simple. HPV is sexually transmitted.”

Physicians and researchers advocate that the vaccine be given to both sexes, Ms. Zenk Pinter said.

During her speech at New York University School of Dentistry graduation, where she received the 2009 Harry S. Strusser Memorial Award for Public Service and Outstanding Contributions to Public Health, Ms. Zenk Pinter implored the graduating doctors and surgeons to thoroughly check their patients for oral cancer at every cleaning. “If it is caught early,” she said, “it is highly treatable.”

Her message, Ms. Zenk Pinter said, is, “Make sure you have a thorough cancer screening every time you see your dentist.”

She has made appearances on CBS and CNN and major women’s magazines to talk about oral cancer early detection. She was honored in 2008 by Hollywood, Health and Society at USC for her oral cancer storyline on As the World Turns. The society is a watchdog group that assesses medical storytelling in film and television.

Ms. Zenk Pinter recently spoke at the American Cancer Society luncheon in Westport and will be speaking at the first Head and Neck Cancer Symposium in Phoenix, Ariz., in January. “Wherever they need me, I will go,” she said.

She has been nominated for the Gilda Radner Courage Award for 2010, which is given to a cancer survivor who has made an impact in the field. “I am very humbled and honored,” Ms. Zenk Pinter said.

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