The Oral Cancer Foundation is a national public service, non-profit entity designed to reduce suffering and save lives through prevention, education, research, advocacy, and patient support activities. Oral cancer is the largest group of those cancers which fall into the head and neck cancer category. Common names for it include such things as mouth cancer, tongue cancer, tonsil cancer, and throat cancer. Approximately 48,250 people in the US will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2016. This includes those cancers that occur in the mouth itself, in the very back of the mouth known as the oropharynx, and on the exterior lip of the mouth. For more than a decade there has been an increase in the rate of occurrence of oral and oropharyngeal cancers.
The two major causes of oral cancer are the use of tobacco and alcohol, a long term historic problem and cause, and exposure to the HPV virus, a newly identified etiology, and the same one which is responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers in women. It is currently believed that a third cause may likely be related to some genetic predisposition in about 7% of those with the disease.
While some think this is a rare cancer, mouth cancers will be newly diagnosed in about 132 new individuals each day in the US alone, and a person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day. If you add the sub category of laryngeal throat cancers, the rates of occurrence and death are significantly higher. When found at early stages of development, oral cancers have an 80 to 90% survival rate. Unfortunately at this time, the majority are found as late stage cancers, which accounts for the very high death rate.
Late stage diagnosis occurs not because most of these cancers are hard to discover but because the general public does not have the information or the opportunity for screenings which would yield early discovery by medical and dental professionals.
Oral cancer screening is an examination performed by a dentist or doctor to look for signs of cancer or precancerous conditions in your mouth. The goal of oral cancer screening is to identify mouth cancer early, when there is a greater chance for a cure. Most dentists perform an examination of your mouth during a routine dental visit to screen for oral cancer. Some dentists may use additional tests to aid in identifying areas of abnormal cells in your mouth.
Oral cancer screening could lead to additional tests. Many people have sores in their mouths, with the great majority being noncancerous. An oral exam can’t determine which sores are cancerous and which are not.
If your dentist finds an unusual sore, you may go through further testing to determine its cause. The only way to definitively determine whether you have oral cancer is to remove some abnormal cells and test them for cancer by a procedure called a biopsy.
The website http://www.oralcancer.org will provide you with hundreds of pages of information about the rates of occurrence, risk factors which lead to oral cancer, signs and symptoms, treatments, current research, complications of treatment, nutrition, related clinical trials, and current oral cancer related news. There is an additional resource page dedicated to links to other sources of vetted information about oral cancer and treatment institutions.
When you see your dentist for your regular hygiene visit, remember to ask about your oral cancer screening and always call your doctor or dentist if you have any concerns about sores or unusual irritations in your mouth or throat.