Oral and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the mouth and upper throat) collectively kill nearly one person every hour of every day of the year. Of the people newly diagnosed with these cancers, 40% will not survive longer than 5 years. Moreover, many who do survive suffer long-term problems such as severe facial disfigurement or difficulties eating and speaking.
The death rate associated with oral and oropharyngeal cancers remains particularly high due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development. Fortunately, when oral and oropharyngeal cancers are detected and treated early, mortality and treatment-related health problems are reduced.
As the nation prepares to observe the 15th Annual Oral Cancer Awareness Month this April, the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology (AAOMP), the American Academy of Oral Medicine (AAOM), American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), the American Dental Association (ADA), and the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) have joined the Oral Cancer Foundation in its campaign to remind everyone that regular oral cancer examinations by your oral health professional remain the best method to detect oral cancer in its early stages.
Two weeks is key for symptoms. Your mouth is one of your body's most important early warning systems. In between dental visits, it is important for patients to be aware of the following signs and symptoms, and to see a dental professional if they do not disappear after two weeks.
a sore or irritation that doesn't go away
red or white patches or 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
a change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
If you have never had an oral cancer examination, there is no better time to schedule one than during Oral Cancer Awareness Month in April. When you do, be sure to ask that this examination be a part of all future dental exams. For a list of dental professionals near you participating in this year's event by offering free Oral Cancer screenings, visit the Oral Cancer Foundation's Web site.
Factors That May Cause Cancer
Research has identified a number of factors that may contribute to the development of oral cancer. While historically those at an especially high risk of developing oral cancer are heavy drinkers and smokers older than 50, it is now occurring more frequently in younger non-smoking people. In addition, the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus 16 (HPV) is related to the increasing incidence of oropharyngeal cancer (most commonly involving tonsils and base of tongue). These cancers may present with one or more of the following persistent (i.e. >2 weeks) signs and symptoms:
a painless lump or swelling felt in the neck
sore throat, difficulty swallowing or pain when swallowing
swelling of the tonsillar areas at the back of the mouth
Be aware of the risk factors and symptoms of oral and oropharyngeal cancer. Early detection and treatment may well be the key to complete recovery. For more information about oral cancer, its diagnosis and treatment, visit the following organizations' Web sites.