According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year alone. Of those, just over half are expected to still be alive in five years. As with all forms of cancer, the earlier it is diagnosed or the earlier potential symptoms are found, the higher the chances for survival. Survival rates for oral cancer have risen in the last decade.
Oral cancer is part of a class of cancer commonly known as head and neck cancers, and make up about 85% of all cancers within that group. The rate of death for this kind of cancer is in large part attributed to the fact that it is often discovered quite late in its development. Dentists, using routine dental screenings are on the front lines of those who can spot oral cancer at an early stage, before it has a chance to metastasize to deeper structures of the head and throat, such as the lymph glands.
Oral cancer in the early stages is often silent. It can spread easily, producing secondary tumors with few outwardly noticeable signs to the patient. While there are several kinds, the vast majority are squamous cell carcinomas which develop in skin cells. Risk factors for oral cancers include smoking, chewing tobacco, exposure to the human papilloma viruses (HPV), and certain genetic predispositions.
Oral Cancer Treatment
Once the cancer is identified and diagnosed, it must be staged in order to guide the treatment. Stage one, for instance, means the cancer is relatively small and is contained within the organ where it began. Stage two means that the cancer has not spread, but is larger than stage one (Stage two can also mean that is has begun to spread to nearby tissues). Stage three and four mean that it has spread further. The higher the number, the more challenging the treatment. This is why early detection is critical in all forms of cancer.
Early stage one oral cancer is the least difficult to treat and has the highest rate of survival. Treatment for oral cancer usually requires a multidisciplinary approach. This often includes dentists, oncologists who specialize in both radiation and chemotherapy, as well as nutritionists, surgeons, and restorative specialists – all working together to treat the cancer.
A dentist can assist with the detection of oral cancer by conducting regular exams of your mouth, teeth, gums, tongue and lips. Dentists are often the very first to spot oral cancer and have been specially trained to identify suspicious lesions. If you have any questions or concerns about a family history of oral cancer or are or were a tobacco user, be sure to ask your dentist and or physician about an oral cancer screening.
Your dentist may just save your life. To find out more about oral cancer or any other dental health topic, please call (724) 452-4300 or schedule an appointment online today. Dr. Mark A. Marion has been selected as one of America’s Best Dentists by the International Association of Dentists. Come see what exceptional dental care can do for you.