500 miles in five days – Straumann Charity Bike Ride 2018 #dentistsinlycra2018
With the help of dentists cycling 500 miles in five days from Lake Garda to Rome – and thanks to donations from the profession and sponsors – Straumann will once again be supporting the Mouth Cancer Foundation in its drive to “Bite back at mouth cancer”.
Now in its fourth season, and with over 70 riders taking part in 2018, Straumann has already raised over £150,000 from its charity bike rides and looks forward towards doing much more. During a well-attended event at the iconic Look Mum No Hands! café in London’s Old Street the company invited media supporters to help spread the word and raise awareness about the important charity initiative taking place 19-23 September.
We also met those directly affected by this dreadful disease.
After a welcome from Justin Annett, Straumann’s Marketing Director, we heard from Krishan Joshi, Mouth Cancer Foundation trustee and co-founder. He explained the vital importance of early detection in saving the lives of those affected, and also in improving the quality of life for survivors.
The Foundation has worked hard since becoming a registered charity and professional support organisation in 2005. Its website averages over half a million views every year and has seen more than 30,000 posts on its online forum since launch. These are posts from family members of those suffering from, and survivors of, mouth cancer.
He told us about the increasingly popular annual fund raising 10kilometre mouth cancer walk organised by the Foundation, and also detailed ways people can check their oral condition on a monthly basis to look for cancer indicators. This is such an important issue that Dental Review will cover it in a separate post.
At the coal face
Mahesh Kumar is an oral maxillofacial surgeon working at Hillingdon Hospital and Northwick Park. He presented horrific images of what happens when mouth cancer goes undiagnosed or clear signs are ignored. Some patients with evidently ulcerated mouths, gums and cheeks choose to wait until the symptoms are impossible to treat or require massively invasive treatment.
Mouth cancer, he said, should be easy to diagnose but if a patient leaves it so late to present with such symptoms there is little doctors can hope to achieve. Just 45-50% of people diagnosed manage a five-year survival target, and there has been little improvement in the last 40 years.
Mouth cancer, like obesity and type 2 diabetes, is largely a life-style condition. Some 90% of sufferers are smokers, kicking the habit is vital. Regular alcohol consumers are six times more likely to develop the disease than light or non-drinkers. HPV has been making headlines as a cause for the cancer thanks to the prevalence of young people experimenting with oral sex. It used to affect predominantly male patients but that is changing now, and those presenting with mouth cancer are getting younger.
It is not cost-effective, he explained, to screen for mouth cancer in practice. Heavy smokers and drinkers tend to suffer from dental neglect and do not present early. They are just a sub-section from more than 50% of the UK population who will not visit the dentist regularly and will present with symptoms too late for effective treatment, if at all.
Dead at the age of 23: losing loved ones
Pat Jones faced the difficult task of detailing her daughter’s tragically short battle with cancer. At the age of 19, Clare was diagnosed with mouth cancer. She had none of the life-style habits associated with the disease. She was a bright intelligent young woman with a promising life in front of her.
She had developed an ulcer on the underside of her tongue that wouldn’t heal, however, neither her dentist or her GP saw anything to worry about. It was a busy year in Clare’s life, she was starting at Loughborough University and had a lot to organise. At her mother’s insistence she attended the University medical centre about her ulcer and was referred for examination.
The first biopsy was inconclusive; after the second larger biopsy she was called in for treatment. Almost a year after noticing her ulcer Clare was diagnosed with serious mouth cancer. She had an operation to excise the affected area of her tongue, but some of the tumour remained. Her second operation lasted nearly nine hours. Half her tongue was removed and reconstructed using tissue from her arm.
Pat described the process as being like an uncontrolled juggernaut careering through the entire family’s lives. It was a relief when Clare was discharged after 10 days. Clare had never heard of mouth cancer before. She worked with the Mouth Cancer Foundation to help raise awareness through TV and radio interviews, plus newspapers and magazines. She also gained her University degree in English with first class honours.
In February 2006 Clare reported to her doctor with chronic back pains. The diagnosis was shattering. Two years after she had been told she was clear of cancer it was found to have spread to her bones. She fought, bravely suffering intrusive surgery and aggressive treatments, but finally, in March 2007, Clare lost the battle.
Pat Jones is a Mouth Cancer Foundation People’s Ambassador. She feels that if Clare had received treatment earlier she would have survived and prospered. It is vital, she feels, to do everything we can to make more people aware of mouth cancer, the message must be spread as widely as possible.
The survivor’s tale
When Stuart Caplan, a Mouth Cancer Foundation Patient Ambassador, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinomas to his tongue and lymph nodes he was reporting with a sore throat, earache and headache, none of which flagged up cancer. During his operation in 2013 he lost two thirds of his tongue and his lymph nodes.
He lives with a holistic program of yoga, exercise and meditation, and claims he came out of the cancer process stronger than when he went in, although he has lost his sense of taste and has had to learn how to speak again. Stuart reeled off the entire ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper’ tongue twister with a grin.
Stuart believes that those who deal with cancer patients need more than clinical expertise, they need empathy and an understanding about how to be positive. They offer too many negative messages. He had been told that he would need a reconstructed lower jaw, a terrifying thought that proved to be “balderdash”. Stuart listed the difficulties he must live with but was more concerned with those like Pat Jones who must watch their loved ones suffer.
The process for the sufferer, he said, was easier for the patient than their loved ones. The patient is on a conveyor belt of treatment while the family must watch, wait, and feel helpless. However, he concluded with a stark message:
“If I tell you I have cancer don’t tell me your grandma died from it. You’re not helping!”
Richard Porter is one of the dentists who has completed the Bike Ride. He explained why. There have been 11,449 cases of mouth cancer reported over the last year, a 92% increase since the 1970s. Undergoing radiotherapy to the head and neck is enormous. It involves the patient being bolted to a table, so they are immobilised during treatment. He sees it regularly, Richard leads the head and neck oncology team at St George’s Hospital Trust.
The aim, he says, is to minimise the collateral damage radiotherapy can do, treatment must be curative, not kill. It is difficult to appreciate what the patient is going through, but key elements of the process are easier to understand. Patients want their lives back, they want the cancer gone, and the greatest fear is that if the cancer is gone that it doesn’t come back.
The patient after radiotherapy is a different person – and those around them must be prepared for the changes. The earlier the disease can be diagnosed the less the cumulative effects, and that’s why Richard is happy to be a dentist in Lycra, to help raise awareness.
He concluded: “Riding a bike keeps me sane and the Straumann event is the best I have ever done. To ride through beautiful surroundings with good people – and to have the opportunity to raise money for people who need it – it makes it all worthwhile.”
To discover more about the Mouth Cancer Foundation visit www.mouthcancerfoundation.org
To find out more about the Bike Ride visit www.straumannbikeride.com
All money raised goes to the Mouth Cancer Foundation. Please support the initiative by posting #dentistsinlycra2018 on social media.