United Health Foundation Awards University of Kentucky $1 Million Grant to Reduce Rates of Oral Cancer and Improve Oral Health

November 02, 2018
  • Foundation grant part of effort to address oral cancer rates in eastern Kentucky and improve access to oral health services

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 address the high prevalence of oral cancer in Harlan, Letcher and Pike counties in eastern Kentucky, as well as the lack of access to local health care providers who specialize in oral cancer treatment. The three-year grant enables UKCD to lead an integrated outreach and care program delivered to local residents through their local health departments.

Kentucky has one of nation’s highest incidences of oral cancer, according to the National Institute of Health, and the prevalence of oral cancer in the targeted counties is as much as 54 percent higher than the state average. Oral cancer has a high rate of mortality; only about 57 percent of people survive five years after diagnosis, due in large part to late discovery.

According to America’s Health Rankings, Kentucky also has a growing problem with access to dental care and oral health services. The number of dentists per capita has declined for three straight years.

“This grant from United Health Foundation provides us with the resources needed to target the communities with some of the highest oral cancer rates in Kentucky, and to educate the people of Kentucky on the importance of annual screenings,” said Dr. Stephanos Kyrkanides, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.

“The United Health Foundation is grateful for the opportunity 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 for 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.

About University of Kentucky College of Dentistry

Founded in 1962, the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry (UKCD) is one of two dental schools in Kentucky. In addition to offering a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree and several graduate and postdoctoral programs, UKCD conducts research and operates patient clinics serving the community. UKCD is closely tied to UK HealthCare hospitals and clinics.

About the United Health Foundation

Through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts, the United Health Foundation works to improve our health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce and enhance the well-being of local communities. The United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. To date, the United Health Foundation has committed $430 million to programs and communities around the world. We invite you to learn more at