THIS YEAR ALONE, 400,000 people throughout the world will be diagnosed with oral cancer. 40% of those diagnosed won’t live another five years. Oral cancer has such a dismal survival rate because it’s usually not detected until very late in its progression. Because April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, we’re encouraging everyone to get screened this year during their regularly scheduled checkups.

What Are The Risk Factors For Oral Cancer?

A risk factor is anything that changes a person’s chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that a person will get the disease. Also, not having any risk factors doesn’t mean that you won’t get it, either.

Tobacco and alcohol: Tobacco and alcohol use are among the strongest risk factors for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers.

Drinking alcohol: Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers. The risk goes up even more for people who use both tobacco and alcohol. About 7 out of 10 patients with oral cancer are heavy drinkers.

Human papilloma virus (HPV): a group of more than 150 types of viruses. They are called papilloma viruses because some of them cause a type of growth called a papilloma. Papillomas are not cancers, and are more commonly called warts.

Infection with certain types of HPV can also cause some forms of cancer, including cancers of the penis, cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, and throat. Other types of HPV cause warts in different parts of the body.

Other risk factors: Frequent use of mouthwash with alcohol and ill-fitting dentures that can trap carcinogens.

What To Expect At An Oral Cancer Screening

We utilize two forms of oral cancer screenings at our office: visual and lab analysis of cells harvested form the oral environment (the MOP).

The visual exam consists of a through examination of of the oral environment and the head and neck region. We look for any abnormalities in the look of the tissues that may indicate changes occurring in those tissues. If we do notice any changes we may use a special UV light that can help us determine whether or not these changes are a problem.

The MOP is a very complex, innovative genetic test. It tests for oral cancer risk in three distinct ways and catches mouth cancer, throat or esophageal cancer, and tongue cancer much earlier than traditional testing methods. Other oral cancer screening devices, such as light devices that highlight abnormalities or oral HPV tests, may identify one potential risk factor but only the MOP test identifies all three risk factors. Some of these devices have also been known to produce more false positives than the MOP test, a 30- second gargle and rinse procedure. The three risk factors include: Cell abnormalities, HPV and DNA damage.

Early Detection Is SO Important

Every 60 minutes a person dies from oral cancer. The National Cancer Institute reports that 40% of those diagnosed with oral cancer will die within five years. Why? Because this particular type of cancer spreads more quickly than other types of cancers and is typically caught late. People don’t recognize the early symptoms of oral cancer as they typically aren’t very painful. Early detection can make a drastic difference, increasing survival rates to 80 or 90%.

Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the United States. Now, three times more people die from oral cancer. The decline in cases and deaths is largely the result of women getting annual pap smears which identify precancerous or abnormal cells before they turn into cancer. Regular, preventive oral cancer screens can achieve the same result.

The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that head and throat cancer treatment cost the U.S. 3.2 billion dollars in 2010 alone. Preventive tactics could curb the need for such costly cancer treatment by avoiding it all together.

As your trusted, lifelong oral health partner, we want to keep you and your loved ones as healthy as possible. Let us know if you have questions about oral cancer or any of the symptoms mentioned above. And share this information with someone you love!

Other Resources:

MouthCancer.org
OralCancerFoundation.org