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April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

Did You Know?

·         In most cases, oral cancer is detected by your dentist.

·         HPV is a leading cause of oral cancer.

·         You should have an annual oral cancer screening.  Early detection and treatment increases survival rates significantly.


What is Oral Cancer?

Oral Cancer is detected when an abnormal group of cells develops on the surface of the tongue, mouth, lips or gums. Less commonly, it can occur in the salivary glands, tonsils and the part of the throat leading from your mouth to your windpipe (the pharynx).

In early development, there may be no physical symptoms at all—therefore, patients may not even be aware of the disease’s presence. For this reason, routine, professional oral cancer screenings are of critical importance. If detected early (in stages 1 or 2), the survival rate among oral cancer patients may be as high as 80%-90%. However, when found in late stages (stages 3 or 4), the chances of survival are as low as 20%-30%. Unfortunately, in more than half the cases oral cancer is found in its later stages, a major factor in the high death rate.

Causes of Oral Cancer

Tobacco use is still the number one risk factor for oral cancer, with a higher incidence among older people. Human Papilloma Virus number 16 (HPV16)—a common, sexually transmitted virus— is closing the gap as it rises in the cause of oral cancers. This shift has also made people in a younger age range (25–50) the fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients. The same virus responsible for the majority of cervical cancers in women, HPV16 in oral cancer patients tends to localize in the back of the mouth, or in the tonsils, oropharynx, or at the base of the tongue, making it more difficult to detect.

Oral Cancer Screening

Oral cancer screening is a short, painless exam. During the exam, your dentist looks over the inside of your mouth to check for red or white patches or mouth sores. Your dentist also feels your neck and the tissues in your mouth to check for lumps or other abnormalities. Some dentists use special diagnostics in addition to screen for oral cancer.

As with cancers of the breast, cervix, skin, prostate, and colon, early detection is the key to successful treatment. Regular oral cancer screenings are an effective means of finding cancer at its early, highly curable stages.

Oral Cancer Facts

Oral cancer is a silent killer. Your dentist may be the first health care professional to do an exam and recognize abnormalities.

If you notice any sores, ulcers, growths, tissue color changes, or swelling that lasts over two weeks, then you must see the dentist!

• Oral cancer survival rates are approximately 50%.
• Oral cancer exams should be performed at every cleaning appointment as a part of your routine dental exam, at least annually.
• Oral cancer rates are increasing, especially in young adults.
• Oral cancer signs and symptoms are not always noticed by the patient.
• Many oral cancers can be extremely aggressive and the longer a patient delays treatment the higher the chance of more extensive treatment, physical disfigurement or possibly death.

Common Symptoms of Oral Cancer

The hallmark symptoms of this condition include:
• One or more painful or painless mouth ulcers that refuses to heal
• White or red patches over the inside linings of the mouth or tongue
• A swelling within the mouth that refuses to go away, even after three weeks

Risk Factors

• Infection with certain viruses like human papilloma virus (HPV), a virus that also causes cervical cancer in women
• Smoking tobacco
• Drinking alcohol in excess
• Excessive exposure to the harmful UV rays of the sun