Oral cancer: 3rd cause of death in CNMI

Minors now prohibited from obtaining betel nut

Cancer registrar Joanne Ogo reported that oral cancer is the third leading type of cancer in the CNMI. She made the report last Friday during Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ signing of House Bill 19-65 or an act that prohibits the sale, offer, or giving of areca nut (betel nut) to minors.

Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) is the author of HB 19-65, which becomes Public Law 19-66.

Ogo said breast cancer is the leading type of cancer in the CNMI followed by cervical cancer. Colon and lung cancers were third and fourth. She added that there have been 57 cases of oral cancer in the CNMI from 2007 to 2014 where 39 have already died.

“The history of the majority of the cases started chewing when they were 12 years old. They have been experimenting using coffee filters, gum, and Vicks (vapor rub),” said Ogo, who were among one of the individuals who went out to do the survey when principal investigator Dr. Yvette C. Paulino started the study.

“They have a pattern of using vapor rub. They say that it gives them the kick since they already passed the whole tobacco with lime. Their brain wants something that is stronger. The coffee filter absorbs the saliva better, the gum is for flavor, and the vapor rub is to get an extra kick in the betel nut,” added Ogo.

Addressing the problem

Torres said the law would address the problem of oral cancer in the CNMI. “We should not take things for granted. Sometimes we don’t realize it until it hits and we lose someone we love. I know that we have thousands of trees, our youth could go and get their own, but at least this is one step closer to our goal and we can monitor the selling in stores.”

Deleon Guerrero, the author of the bill, said the bill went to a lot of discussion before the challenges in implementing it were finally addressed. “Some businesses may oppose it once the law is enforced but they have to have some requirements in order to have a license to sell it.

“I participated in forum and it touched me that our own people are dying. That prompted me to do something about it. The [Commonwealth Cancer Association] can have its awareness and prevention campaign in our schools especially in the elementary level so they could understand its impact,” added Deleon Guerrero.

CCA president Bo Palacios said that they teamed up with the Community Guidance Center and a number of dental clinics in helping them diagnose people that became part of the study. “We adopted a multi-facet approach in terms of oral cancer.”

“We go to different schools and events to inform the community about oral cancer. We have several dozens of people who were afflicted with oral cancer through chewing. We also have a lot of advocates, one of them is Mami Ikeda and she speaks on affects of not only on the victim but also to the families.”


The Department of Commerce will be changing the meaning of its ABTC acronym, Alcohol Betel Nut Tobacco Control, according to its director Dave Maratita.

“We are in full support of this bill. Of course there were a lot of deliberation but we can look forward in the enforcement in terms of preventing minors to having their hands on it,” said Maratita.

“We also ask the help of the community and various partners to help us in strictly enforcing the law. We have a draft of the license agreement for the sale of betel nut. We also have a hotline number, just call 285-1821 to report any violation.”

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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