Oral cancer, the sixth most common cancer, accounts for about 3.6 percent of all cancers diagnosed, with roughly 40,000 new cases of oral cancer reported annually in the United States. The vast majority of oral cancers occur in people older than 45 years, with men being twice as likely as women to develop the disease.
The most frequent oral cancer sites are the tongue, the floor of the mouth, soft palate tissues in the back of the tongue, lips, and gums. If not diagnosed and treated in its early stages, oral cancer can spread, leading to chronic pain, loss of function, irreparable facial and oral disfigurement following surgery, and even death. Your general dentist can perform a thorough screening for oral cancer.
Scientist aren't sure of the exact cause of oral cancer. However, the carcinogens in tobacco products, alcohol and certain foods, as well as excessive exposure to the sun, have been found to increase the risk of developing oral cancer. Risk factors for oral cancer may also be genetically inherited.
Oral cancer, represented by red, white or discolored lesions, patches or lumps in or around the mouth, is typically painless in its early stages. As a malignant cancer spreads and destroys healthy tissue, the lesions or lumps become more painful. However, oral cancer is difficult to self-diagnose so routine dental exams are strongly recommended. See your dentist immediately if you observe any sore that persists longer than two weeks; a swelling, growth or lump anywhere in the mouth or on the lips; repeated bleeding from the mouth or throat; difficulty swallowing or persistent hoarseness.
Oral cancer accounts for roughly 9,000 deaths annually (about 3% of all cancer-caused deaths). Of all major cancers, oral cancer has the worst 5 year survival rate at about 54%. Because oral cancer is usually not diagnosed in its early stages, less than half of all oral cancer patients are cured.
You can help prevent oral cancer by not smoking, using chewing tobacco and drinking excessive alcohol. When tobacco use and alcohol use are combined, the risk of oral cancer increases 15 times more than non-users of tobacco and alcohol products. Research suggests that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables may be a safe guard against oral cancer. Because successful treatment and rehabilitation are dependent on early detection, it is extremely important to see your dentist for an oral cancer screening and regular checkup at least every six months. Survival rates greatly increase the earlier oral cancer is discovered and treated.
If you have any questions about oral cancer, Dr. Mahlin would be happy to discuss them with you.