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Oral Cancer Genetics: From Diagnosis to Treatment (AGD 730)

Presenter: Natalie Kaweckyj, LDA, RF, CDA, CDPMA, COA, COMSA, CPFDA, CRFDA, MADAA, BA


Often oral cancer is only discovered when the cancer has metastasized to another location, most likely the lymph nodes of the neck when the patient complains of a stiff neck or swollen glands. Prognosis at this stage of discovery is significantly worse than when it is caught in a localized intra oral area. Besides the metastasis, at these later stages, the primary tumor has had time to attack deep into local structures.

Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because in its early stages it may not be noticed by the patient, as it can frequently prosper without producing pain or symptoms they might readily recognize, and because it has a high risk of producing second, primary tumors. This means that patients, who survive a first encounter with the disease, have up to a 20 times higher risk of developing a second cancer at another point in time. This heightened risk factor can last for 5 to 10 years after the first occurrence. There are several types of oral cancers, but around 90% are squamous cell carcinomas. In 2010, it was estimated that approximately $3.2 billion is spent in the United States each year on treatment of head and neck cancers.


Understanding oral cancer genetics will help dental professionals care for their patients immediately following diagnosis, as well as during and after cancer treatment. This course will teach the dental team to recognize signs and symptoms of cancer, the effects various cancer treatments have on the oral cavity, and the best techniques to ease patient discomfort.


Natalie Kaweckyj is a Licensed Dental Assistant with restorative functions at Children’s Dental Services in Minneapolis where she spends the majority of her time in hospital setting providing care under general anesthesia. The challenges of public health keep Natalie continually looking for solutions. She has worked academically, administratively and clinically, as well as legislatively in the 28 years as a dental assistant. As a DANB certificant, Natalie holds all 6 of DANB’s credentials (the only one world-wide) as well as a BA in Biology and Psychology from Metropolitan State University.

Natalie served two terms as President of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) in 2017-2018 and 2010-2011, remains active on several councils, and served as a President of the Professional Dental Assistants Educational Foundation (PDAEF). She served as a three-term president for the Minnesota Dental Assistants Association (MNDAA) and remains as the state business secretary. Natalie has been recognized with several ADAA awards, was one of the first ADAA Fellows in 1999 and became the first ADAA Master in 2004. She has published numerous continuing education courses, over 500 articles and lectures nationally and internationally on a variety of dental subjects.

Organized dentistry gave Natalie the insight early on that you can make a difference as a dental professional, and she was instrumental in seeing licensure for dental assistants come to fruition in Minnesota in 2009 as well as several expanded functions throughout the years. Natalie enjoys giving back to the community and does so with her volunteer writing contributions for a number of different organizations as well as her time with the ADAA and the Dental Peeps Network as a Senior Moderator.



Upon completion of this course, the dental professional should be able to:

• List the characteristics associated with oral cancer risk factors
• Summarize the basics of tumor formation
• Understand the basics of cancer genetics and development
• Recognize the signs and symptoms of oral cancer
• Identify areas most common to oral cancer formation
• Describe the various treatment modalities
• Understand how oncogenes and tumor suppressor cells work
• Describe the staging of oral carcinomas
• Explain metastasis
• Recognize the six classes of chemotherapy drugs and their effects on cells
• Distinguish between benign and malignant tumors
• Explain the treatment considerations necessary in treating dental patients with oral complications
• Differentiate between the types of supplemental fluoride according to existing oral restorations
• Explain the home delivery procedures of supplemental fluoride application


The ADAA has an obligation to disseminate knowledge in the field of dentistry. Sponsorship of a continuing education program by the ADAA does not necessarily imply endorsement of a particular philosophy, product or technique.

The ADAA cautions participants taking this course on the hazards of using limited knowledge when integrating new techniques into their practices.

Credits earned upon completion of the course may be used to meet DANB’s Recertification Requirements.


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