As a global oral health professional, my job is to not only provide comprehensive and exemplary oral health care to my patients and teach and lecture worldwide, training other oral health care professionals - but to also educate individuals about serious oral health situations, like oral cancer.

Research and statistics prove that individuals, and members of the oral health care profession, firmly believe that a twice-a-year visit to the dentist is no longer just about a checkup and cleaning, a cavity and filling or managing periodontal or gum disease. This visit can be a matter of life and death. The Oral Cancer Foundation, http://oralcancerfoundation.org states that, “Dental examinations, when properly done and which include a screening for oral cancer, will save lives.”

WHAT IS ORAL CANCER?

Cancer of the oral cavity cells are mutant or malignant cells that start in the mouth. “Malignant” means that the cancer cells can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. There are several types of oral cancers, but approximately 90% are squamous cell carcinomas.

The mouth and oral cavity structures that may be affected by cancer are the lips, cheeks, gums and teeth. Also affected may be the oral tongue, the bony, roof of the mouth (the hard palate,) under the tongue, and a mucous membrane that lines and protects the inside of the oral cavity.

ORAL CANCER STATS

The statistics are sobering. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Institute, http://www.nidcr.nih.gov:

  • Overall, 10.5 adults per 100,000 will develop oral cancer.
  • Oral cancer rates are significantly higher for males than for females.
  • Oral cancer rates are higher for Hispanic and Black males than for White males.
  • Oral cancer rates increase with age. The increase becomes more rapid after age 50 and peaks between ages 60 and 70.

 

The Canadian Cancer Society, (http://www.cancer.ca) estimated that in 2015:

  • 4,400 Canadians would be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer.
  • 1,200 Canadians could die from oral cavity cancer.
  • 2,900 men would be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer, and 810 would die from it.
  • 1,450 women would be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer, and 390 would die from it.

 

The Oral Cancer Foundation, (http://oralcancerfoundation.org) statistics state:

  • In 2016, close to 48,250 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer. This could cause over 9,575 deaths, killing roughly one person per hour, 24 hours per day. Only slightly more than half (57%) will survive after five years.
  • The death rate for oral cancer is higher than cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, testicular, and endocrine system cancers, such as thyroid.

 

WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?

One of the real dangers of oral cancer, is that in its early stages, it can be painless and unnoticeable. Patients who survive an initial diagnosis may have up to a 20 times higher risk of developing a second cancer, or metastasis; this increased risk factor can exist for 5-10 years after the first occurrence. Risk factors include:

AGE: Oral cancer usually occurs over age 40.

SMOKING: Tobacco use in all its forms is #1 on the list of risk factors in individuals over 50. Historically at least 75% of those diagnosed at age 50 and older, have been tobacco users.

oral-cancer-stats-blog-photo2ALCOHOL: Alcohol is an independent risk factor for oral cancer and has been cited as the most important risk factor in non-smokers. But when tobacco is combined with heavy alcohol use, the risk is significantly increased, as the two factors act synergistically. Those who both smoke and drink, have a 15 times greater risk of developing oral cancer than others.

oral-cancer-stats-blog-photo3HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS or HPV16: The sexually transmitted virus affects 40 million Americans today and has been shown to cause oral cancer, affecting posterior (or front) oral cavity sites. Over the last few years in people under the age of 50, HPV16 may be replacing tobacco as the primary cause of oral cancer.

LIFESTYLE CHOICES include behaviors we have control over, and can change: Diet, smoking, smokeless chewing tobacco, excessive alcohol use and unprotected sex (HPV16).

PHYSICAL: Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (sunlight), chemicals and radiographs (x-rays) can produce cumulative effects and have been implicated in some lip and oral cancers. Genetic factors (DNA) may play a small role, as well.

WHERE DOES ORAL CANCER SHOW UP?

Statistics show that oral cancer can develop on the tongue, floor of the mouth, between the lip or cheek and the soft tissue (gingiva) covering the lower jaw, salivary glands, base of the tongue at the back of the mouth, the oropharynx (the back of the throat) and on and around the tonsils.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • Discoloration in the mouth
  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • Lump or mass
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing, speaking or chewing
  • Chronic hoarse voice
  • Numbness
  • Persistent earache

 

The Oral Cancer Foundation statistics prove that regular visits to your oral health provider and an early oral cancer diagnosis can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Detect oral cancer when it is small and curable!

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