April is “National Oral Cancer Awareness Month.” Worldwide, the sixth most common cancers are oral cancers. In the U.S. an estimated 91,200 people are living with oral cancer. Nearly 37,000 people are diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer annually. Oral cancer kills 1 person every hour, 24 hours each day. Annually, an estimated 8,000 deaths occur. In fact, a little more than half of newly diagnosed patients will live beyond 5 years. A dentist can help with early detection of oral cancer, which can increase survival rates. The lack of public awareness is a significant risk factor contributing to late stage detection.
Surviving Oral Cancer
Oral cancer survival rates depends on the growth site and cancer stage at diagnosis. During stage 1, the cancer survival rate is 90%, with 75% survival for 5 years. For late stage diagnosis, the survival rate is 20%. Oral health can be maintained with regular visits to the dentist.
Consider Risk Factors
Lesions are often caused by tobacco use and frequent alcohol consumption. Men are twice as likely as women to receive an oral cancer diagnosis. Types of human papillomavirus (HPV) are also linked to risk for oropharyngeal cancer. Consequently, the oral cancer population is increasingly reflecting younger men in the 20 to 50 age range infected with HPV.
Recognize Oral Cancer Alerts
A small ulcer, lesion or lump on the lip, oral mucosa (gum and mouth tissue), mouth floor, tongue, tongue base, or oropharynx (the throat at back of the mouth). Lesions lasting longer than 14 days is the body’s signal to stop and consult a medical professional. The growth may be pale, dark or discolored. A white lesion patch on the soft tissue of the mouth, leukoplakia (most common precancerous lesions) or red velvety lesion patch, erythroplakia. The growth is typically painless at first. When the growth is at an advanced stage, it may burn or turn painful. The growth may appear behind a wisdom tooth or behind an ear. Problems with the tongue or swallowing, sores in the mouth, and later, pain and a “pins and needles” sensation may appear.
Proactive Oral Health
Oral cancer treatment is typically managed by a team of health care professionals, including dental professionals. Besides surgery, radiation therapy, which may or may not include chemotherapy, is standard. Delayed diagnosis and treatment will cause the death of approximately 1 in 4 people with oral cancer. Early detection is critical, a matter of life or death. Oral cancer may be discovered when a dentist conducts a routine cleaning and exam. Oral health is the key to overall good health throughout the years.