Dental students organize walk for oral cancer awareness

Each year in the United States, more than 40,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer, and more than 8,000 will die from the disease.

“People often don’t appreciate that oral cancer is as prevalent as some better-known cancers,” says Thomas Sollecito, chair and professor in the Department of Oral Medicine in the School of Dental Medicine. “Early diagnosis has a significant impact on patient survival.”

According to the American Cancer Society, more than twice as many people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year as will receive diagnoses of brain cancer or ovarian cancer.

On Saturday, March 28, Penn Dental Medicine students and faculty will host the 7th annual Philadelphia Oral Cancer Walk and 5K in an effort to raise awareness about the disease, both for medical professionals and the general public. Proceeds will benefit the Oral Cancer Foundation.

The event is the culmination of a yearlong awareness-raising effort led by event co-chairs J.V. Kracke, a second-year Penn Dental student, and Katherine France, a third-year student. Sollecito and Joan Gluch, director of community oral health at Penn Dental Medicine, are both faculty advisors.

The event kicks off with a walk and run, both starting at 8:30 a.m. at Penn Park and ending at Penn Dental Medicine at 40th and Spruce streets. All throughout the morning, dental students and faculty members are volunteering their time to provide free oral cancer screenings at the Schattner Center.

In addition, a keynote speech from a cancer survivor who was treated by Sollecito at Penn Dental Medicine will bring a personal face to the disease.

“The speeches from people who have experienced the disease are really inspiring, and for me as a dentist-in-training, are powerful reminders to be a caring and careful practitioner,” France says.

All together, nearly 250 people volunteer their time to make the event a success.

“Students are involved at every level, from being co-chairs like me and J.V., to mapping out the course, to securing donations from local businesses, to planning other fundraising events through the year, to helping perform the oral cancer screenings,” says France. “It’s rare that you can find someone who has gone through the Dental School who has never been involved in the event.”

To register for the walk, visit

Oral Cancer Walk