April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. This year, more than 51,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Of those, an estimated 10,030 people will die from those cancers.
Forty percent will not survive longer than five years, and many who do survive will suffer long-term problems, such as severe facial disfigurement or difficulties eating and speaking, The Oral Cancer Foundation says. The death rate associated with oral and oropharyngeal cancers remains particularly high because these cancers are usually discovered late in their development.
In fact, the death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cancers that get more attention, including cervical, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal and thyroid. But oral cancer should get more notice – in the United States, oral cancer kills one person each hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation.
Oral cancer begins in the mouth, while oropharyngeal cancer starts in the oropharynx, the part of the throat just behind the mouth. Oral and oropharyngeal cancers occur most often in the tongue, tonsils and oropharynx, and the gums and mouth.
These cancers are more than twice as common in men as in women and occur twice as often in the African-American population as in the white population, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation. The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62. They are rare in children, but a little more than 25% occur in patients younger than 55.
The death rate for these cancers has been decreasing over the past 30 years, perhaps because lifestyle choices remain the largest cause and fewer people choose to smoke today. There are links to young men and women who use conventional “smokeless” chewing or spit tobacco. And those who smoke and drink have a 15 times greater risk of developing oral cancer than people who don’t do both. But studies have found that in recent years, the overall rate of new cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancers that can be linked to those habits has been dropping.
However, a new cause agent has emerged, and it is resulting in more cases of oral cancers among younger people. Recent research has revealed that a virus – the human papilloma virus number 16 (HPV16) – is causing a rise in younger people developing oral cancers.
According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, HPV16, which is sexually transmitted between partners, is “conclusively implicated in the increasing incidence of young non-smoking oral cancer patients.” This virus also is the main cause of more than 90% of all cervical cancers.
When oral cancer is detected and treated early, treatment-related health problems are reduced, and survival rates may increase. Regular oral cancer screenings performed by your dentist are still the best method of early detection. For this reason, dental associations urge you to get a regular oral cancer screening from your dentist and to self-check between examinations. However, these screenings may not be as commonplace as they should be.
“From the data we collect on new patients, only 1 in 10 tell us that they ever had an oral cancer exam like this one – shocking numbers,” said Dr. James Otten, DDS.
At James Otten Dentistry in Lawrence, Kansas, we screen patients for oral cancer at least once a year during their routine checkup and cleaning. Whether you’ve had an oral cancer screening before or not, Oral Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to schedule one! Come in and let our team at James Otten Dentistry perform an oral cancer screening today, call 785.843.6404 or visit www.jamesottendds.com.