A new study showing an estimated 7 percent of American teens and adults carry the human papillomavirus (HPV) in their mouths. Oral cancer is not rare, and screening should be considered just as important as testing for cervical, prostate and breast cancer.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and the Oral Cancer Foundation would like to invite you to join them in their national screening campaign to end oral cancer! The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that approximately 42,000 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer this year.
While smoking and tobacco use is still a major risk factor, the fastest growing segment or oral cancer patients are young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals due to the connection to the HPV virus. Different types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) are known to infect different parts of the body, such as the mouth, throat, tongue and tonsils. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that those infected with HPV were 32 times more likely to develop oral or throat cancers, and also found that HPV now accounts for more head and neck cancers than tobacco or alcohol.
Oral cancer has the lowest survival rate because it is typically painless in its early stages and goes unnoticed by the sufferer until it spreads, leading to chronic pain and sometimes loss of function before it is diagnosed.
The Oral Cancer Foundation cites the following simple facts:
One Hundred (100) new people in the United States every day will be newly diagnosed with an oral cancer;
One (1) person every hour of day, 24/7/365 will die from oral cancer.
Risk Factors For Oral Cancer
Tobacco use accounts for most oral cancers. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes; and using chewing tobacco, are all linked to oral cancer.
People who drink alcohol are more likely to develop oral cancer than people who don’t drink.
Cancer of the lip can be caused by exposure to the sun. Using a lotion or lip balm that has a sunscreen can reduce the risk.
People who have had a personal history of head and neck cancer are at increased risk of developing another primary head and neck cancer.
What Are The Symptoms Of Oral Cancer?
Common symptoms of oral cancer include the following:
Patches inside your mouth or on your lips that are white, a mixture of red and white, or red;
A sore on your lip or in your mouth that won’t heal;
Bleeding in your mouth;
Difficulty or pain when swallowing;
Difficulty wearing dentures;
A lump in your neck;
Anyone with these symptoms should see a doctor or dentists so that any problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Most often, these symptoms do not mean cancer. An infection or another problem can cause the same symptoms. If you have symptoms that suggest oral cancer, request an exam from your doctor or dentist. The exam is usually quick and painless, and includes looking carefully at the roof of your mouth, back of your throat, and inside of the cheeks and lips. If an exam shows an abnormal area, a small sample of tissue may be removed. Removing tissue to look for cancer cells is called a biopsy.
Your doctor or dentist may refer you to a specialist. Specialists who treat oral cancer include Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, Otolaryngologists, medical Oncologists, Ear, Nose & Throat physicians, and Plastic Surgeons. Whether a patient has surgery, radiation and surgery, or radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy, is dependent on the stage of development of the cancer. Each case is individual. Patients with cancers treated in their early stages, may have little in the way of post treatment disfigurement. For those whose cancer is caught at a later stage, it can lead to surgery and facial and oral disfigurement. Surgery can include removal of a portion of the tongue, jaw or facial features.
Preventing high risk behaviors, that include cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking, use of smokeless tobacco, and excessive use of alcohol are critical in preventing oral cancers. Early detection is key to increasing the survival rate for these cancers.
If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss this concern with your doctor or dentist, and remember to ask about your oral cancer screening at your next visit to your dentist. Most people receive an oral cancer screening during their regular dental checkup but do not realize it. Make oral cancer screening part of all of your regular yearly checkups, you and your family will be glad you did.