Author: Miriam Nareem

Penn Relays won’t be the only on-foot event on campus this weekend. Founded and run by students, the Oral Cancer Awareness Society will be holding their second annual 3.1 mile-long walk on April 24. The walk loops around University City and West Philadelphia.

The event has drawn students from Penn, Temple University and other surrounding universities, as well as community members and cancer survivors. Individuals can register to walk or sponsor another participant. All walker registration fees and the majority of sponsorship money goes to the Oral Cancer Foundation. So far approximately $5,000 has been raised.

The group will be holding free oral cancer screenings at on Locust Walk with faculty from the school. Additionally, the event will be attended by oral cancer survivors themselves who can share their experiences. Last year, the post-walk festivities featured live entertainment from School of Dental Medicine students.

Between classes and extracurriculars, most Penn students do not have time for dental screenings as regularly as they should, Anna Yuan, a Penn Dental student and one of the walk’s organizers wrote in an e-mail.

With a disease like oral cancer, regular visits to the dentist are crucial in detection and diagnosis — the same visits most Penn student’s either don’t have the time or resources to make. “When diagnosed early, oral cancer is highly treatable,” Yuan wrote.

Missing dental appointments is an even bigger issue for international students who don’t have dental insurance in this country. College freshman Humna Bhojani said, “I haven’t been to the dentists since last summer and since I don’t have dental insurance in the USA, I will not be going till next summer, when I go back to Pakistan.”

Even domestic students tend to put off their visits to the dentist for summer or winter breaks. Engineering junior Shabatun Islam, who participated in On-Campus Recruiting this semester, confided, “I found out over winter break that I would need a root canal for my cavity, but I just haven’t had the time to schedule a dentist appointment because of my schedule.”

Skipping dental appointed can be dangerous, however, according to Yuan. “Unfortunately, most cases are discovered at later stages, when survival rates rapidly decrease to 50 percent,” Yuan wrote. “This trend of late stage diagnosis can be due to lack of public awareness coupled with the lack of a national program for opportunistic screenings which would yield early discovery by medical and dental professionals.”

According to Yuan, the group hopes the walk will promote awareness about the disease and will initiate a community-wide dialogue about this pressing health issue.

Approximately 35,000 people in the United States will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2010, according to Yuan. Given this surprisingly alarming number of cases, she explained, the group hopes to get people interested and aware of this disease and yield a type of tradition like the breast cancer and HIV walks.

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