Oral cancer kills one person every hour, every day of the year. An estimated 50,000 Americans are newly diagnosed with oral cancer each year, and the death rate associated with mouth and upper throat cancer is incredibly high, due to detection not occurring until late in development. The 5-year survival rate is only 60%, and many survivors live with severe facial disfigurement or trouble eating and speaking.
Routine oral cancer screenings are imperative for an early diagnosis.
A number of risk factors, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, may contribute to the development of oral cancer – particularly for people over the age of 50. That being said, young, healthy non-smokers are the fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients, as a result of HPV 16 – a type of human papilloma virus. In fact, if you have HPV, you are 30 times more likely to develop oral cancer.
Understanding the Risk Factors
While otherwise healthy individuals can develop oral cancer, the following factors are associated with a heightened risk.
- Age: Risk increases with age. The majority of people with oral cancer have historically been older than 40 at the time of discovery, though it is frequently occurring in much younger groups.
- Gender: Men are historically twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women, a statistic that is thought to be related to alcohol and tobacco consumption. This gender gap is rapidly closing, however.
- Tobacco: Smoking and chewing tobacco greatly increases the risk of developing cancer of the mouth or throat. Tobacco is also associated with cancers of the cheeks, gums, and the inner surface of the lips.
- Alcohol: Approximately 70% of those diagnosed with oral cancer are characterized as heavy drinkers, and people who drink excessively can be more than twice as likely to develop oral cancers than people who do not.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV): This sexually transmitted disease is associated with at least 10,000 cases of oral cancer diagnosed each year in the U.S. Typically, those diagnosed with HPV-related oral cancers are at a much lower risk of death or reoccurrence.
- Sunlight: Prolonged exposure to sunlight has been associated with a higher risk of developing lip cancer. It is vital to use UV protection when working and recreating outdoors.
- Diet: According to the American Dental Association, reports show that a link exists between diets low in fruits and vegetables and an elevated risk for oral cancers.
Oral cancer does not discriminate, however. For this reason, it is important to check for any of the following and call their dentist if the symptoms persist for two weeks:
- A sore or irritation that doesn’t go away
- Red or white patches
- Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue
At Crossroads, we always perform thorough oral cancer screenings during all new patient visits and at every recall hygiene appointment (2-4 times per year). In addition to examining all the soft tissues of the mouth, we use an enhanced assessment system known as the Velscope. This technology uses natural tissue fluorescence that allows clinicians to view abnormalities that may not be visible to the naked eye. Our hygienists perform a Velscope screening regardless of insurance coverage and at no additional cost to the patient!
If caught early, most forms of oral cancer are treatable. Regular dental examinations make it possible for the team at Crossroads Dental Arts to detect oral cancer early. Contact our office to schedule your comprehensive oral examination today.