The Benefits of Oral Cancer Screening
Many people believe that oral cancer is a rare disease. However, this year alone, more than 34,000 new cases of oral cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States, according to The California Dental Association (CDA).
The CDA reports that 8,000 people will die this year from mouth cancer and the 34,000 newly diagnosed oral cancer patients, only half will still be living five years from now. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the five-year mortality rate for oral cancer is 50 percent some ethnicities experiencing a mortality twice as high as that of Caucasians.
These striking statistics convey the importance and benefits of regular oral cancer screening.
Mouth Cancer – What are the Signs?
Knowing the early signs of oral cancer are critical to ensure early detection and treatment. These signs include:
- Color changes of oral tissues
- Changes in the bite (how teeth fit together)
- Difficulty speaking, chewing, swallowing, and/or moving the tongue or jaw
- A lingering sore that bleeds easily
- Sores that do not heal
- Pain or tenderness in the mouth or on the lips
It’s important to note that oral cancer may be present long before a patient begins to notice symptoms. Many people never detect mouth cancer until it has spread into other nearby areas such as the larynx, esophagus, or the lung.
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
It’s important to note that many people who are not part of the high risks groups can and do develop cancer of the mouth. Regular cancer screenings are wise for everyone. People with the following risk factors, however, should be particularly vigilant.
- Gender – The Cancer Treatment Centers of America states that an oral or oropharyngeal cancer diagnosis is “Twice as common in men as in women.”
- Tobacco – Use of cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco products (Approximately 80 percent of people who have oral cancer use or have used tobacco in one of these forms.
- Age – The American Cancer Society states that the average age for people diagnosed with mouth cancer is 62. However, it can, and does occur in younger people with one quarter of oral cancer patients being under the age of 55.
- HPV-16 – Human Papilloma Virus version 16, the same one responsible for most instances of cervical cancer among women, is also associated with oral cancer, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America indicates that only a small percentage of these infections develop into cancer, but people who have the virus should be particularly watchful.
- Previous Diagnosis – People who have overcome oral or oropharyngeal cancer in the past are at an increased risk to develop cancer in nearby areas including the larynx, esophagus, throat, lung, and mouth warns the American Cancer Society. They will need regular follow-up exams for the rest of their lives.
Preventive efforts such as smoking and tobacco cessation programs are always advised, as are early detection measures such as yearly oral cancer screenings and regular visits with your trusted dentist.
Anyone noticing unusual spots in the mouth should schedule an oral cancer screening immediately. With a 50 percent mortality rate, early detection is critical for saving lives.
While the numbers seem grim, with education and efforts to screen, identify, and treat oral cancer early, the long-term survival rates will rise in the future.