A $1 million grant from the United Health Foundation will enable the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry (UKCD) to launch its Eradicate Oral Cancer in Eastern Kentucky project.
The three-year project will raise public awareness of the symptoms of oral cancer and its links to heavy alcohol and tobacco use, provide approximately 1,000 oral cancer screenings at local health departments, and help connect patients who need additional care to cancer specialists in Lexington.
The grant was awarded to tackle the high prevalence of oral cancer in Harlan, Letcher, and Pike counties in Eastern Kentucky and address the lack of access to local healthcare providers who specialize in oral cancer treatment. It also allows UKCD to lead an integrated outreach and care program delivered to local residents through their local health departments.
Kentucky has one of the nation’s highest incidences of oral cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health, with prevalence in the targeted counties as much as 54% higher than the state average. Oral cancer also has a high mortality rate, with only about 57% of individuals surviving five years after diagnosis due largely to late discovery, UKCD says.
Plus, Kentucky has a growing problem with access to dental care and oral health services, reports America’s Health Rankings, with the number of dentists per capita declining for three straight years.
“This grant from United Health Foundation affirms its commitment to our state and provides us with the resources needed to target the communities with some of the highest oral cancer rates in Kentucky and to also educate the people of Kentucky on the importance of annual screenings,” said Stephanos Kyrkanides, DDS, dean of UKCD.
“The United Health Foundation is proud to partner with the University of Kentucky in addressing oral cancer,” said Tom Wiffler, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Specialty Benefits. “By improving awareness about the signs and risks of oral cancer and increasing early screening of the disease, we can help more Kentuckians live healthier lives.”
UKCD will share the findings from the Eradicate Oral Cancer in Eastern Kentucky project in presentations to state and national organizations, along with guidance on how the program could be replicated or adapted in other communities.