Amazingly, oral cancer kills more people each year than some of the more widely known forms of cancer like skin cancer, lymphatic cancer and cervical cancer. This little known fact highlights the need for greater awareness and education about oral cancer which can impact the dental and general health of everyone.
A quick review of the statistics show:
- One in 93 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the oral cavity or throat during their lifetime.
- 52,000 people will be diagnosed with oral and throat cancer this year.Â Worldwide, this number grows to 640,000 people.
- In the US, someone dies of oral cancer every hour of every day. Yearly, this number total over 350,000 deaths worldwide.
- If diagnosis comes in the later stages when metastasis has occurred, only 35% of oral cancer patients will survive 5 years.Â When detected early, the survival rate is 80-90%.
- Risk factors include tobacco use (in any form), heavy alcohol consumption and prolonged exposure to the sun (for lip cancers).
- Historically, oral cancer had been linked to the over 50-year-old population. However, new research has shown an association of the human papilloma virus (HPV) with oropharyngeal cancers. This has dramatically changed the demographics of the â€œat riskâ€ population.Â Oral cancer is now no longer just a disease that affects older men who smoke and drink. Most of the younger group are non-smokers and they represent a completely different etiology for getting the cancer.Â The HPV virus is the same virus responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers and it can be sexually transmitted between partners.
Dentists and dental hygienists should be on theÂ front lineÂ in this battle for education, awareness and detection of oral cancer.Â Sadly, only about 15% of dental patients receive oral cancer screenings during their dental exams.Â There are many tools on the market to help the dental professionals differentiate normal from abnormal tissue (such as special lights and dyes) but most of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer can be seen with the naked eye or felt with the fingers.Â The Oral Cancer Foundation websiteÂ is a good resource to learn how to conduct an effective screening.
If suspicious lesions do not resolve within 2 weeks then they should be biopsied for histological evaluation.Â The message should be loud and clear; early detection and early treatment are the keys.Â Regular dental checks ups that incorporate an oral cancer examination coupled with an increase in public awareness of oral cancer risk factors can save lives.
I encourage you to discuss this and any other questions you have about oral cancer during your next appointment with your dentist.
About the Author
Dr. Michael Buglione is an experienced and award-winning family, cosmetic and sedation dentist based in Vestal, NY. Connect with Dr. Buglione on Google+.