Oral cancer is an easily overlooked major health risk. So, on April 22, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Dental School will offer free oral cancer screenings and, simultaneously, host the Essex County Cancer & Heath Fair.

More than 60 percent of the oral cancer cases in New Jersey in 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available, were diagnosed in the late stages of the disease. These cases have a poor five-year survival rate - less than 25 percent - according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services' New Jersey Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan.

Oral cancer can be prevented when pre-cancerous lesions are found and removed before they develop into cancer. Furthermore, when oral cancers are detected at an early stage of disease, successful treatment is more likely. The five-year survival rate for those with a diagnosis in the early (localized) stages exceeds 82 percent.

UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School will offer free screenings from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Oral Health Pavilion, located at Fifty 12th Ave. UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School is a founding member of the NY/NJ Oral Cancer Consortium, a group of dental schools, hospitals, healthcare organizations and professional associations that have banded together to inform the public and to educate the dental and medical communities about this disease. The consortium, the dental school and the Essex County Cancer Coalition (E.C.C.C.) are partners for this event.

Licensed dentists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, pathologists and post-doctoral students from the dental school will conduct free comprehensive oral exams, which take less than 10 minutes to complete. Each participant will receive a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss at no cost. For more information, please call (973) 972-4635.

In conjunction with that event, the Essex County Cancer Coalition will hold its annual health fair. Among the fair participants is UMDNJ-The University Hospital's Screening Access of Value to Women and Men program, which will offer free cancer education and screenings for breast and cervical cancers from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and prostate cancer screenings from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. for persons eligible through The New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection Screening Program (N.J.C.E.E.D.). For more information on the breast, cervical or prostate cancer screenings or to schedule an appointment, please call (973) 972-0308.

In addition, participants can take free health risk evaluations throughout the day. Participants respond to a set of questions on a touch-screen computer, then receive a printout of their results and personalized recommendations based upon their input. Headphones used during the evaluation are complimentary.

At the fair, the E.C.C.C. also will distribute free radon test kits to New Jersey homeowners as part of its New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection-sponsored Radon Awareness Program.

Several other organizations will also be present, providing information to participants.