Oral Cancer: Survival Rate Increases with Early Detection
Doctors are reporting that one side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that people are putting off critical screening and diagnostic tests for detecting cancer.
A study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine in May 2021 concluded that “cancer screening programs have been clearly interrupted since the onset of the COVID-19 disease. The anticipated outcomes include delayed diagnosis and marked increases in the numbers of avoidable cancer deaths.”
53,000+ New Cases of Oral Cancer in U.S. Each Year
Oral cancer, which the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) estimates there are 53,000+ new cases each year in the U.S., is a cancer with a much higher survival rate when detected early.
How important is early detection of oral cancer?
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) says the 5-year survival rate for oral or oropharyngeal cancer is:
- 85 percent when oral cancer is detected at an early stage
- 67 percent when the oral cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes
- 40 percent if the oral cancer has spread to a distant part of the body
- Only 29 percent of all oral cancer is detected at the earliest stage, with almost half of the cases not diagnosed until it has spread, according to the ASCO.
What is Oral Cancer? And What Causes Oral Cancer?
When we think of the health of our mouth, we typically focus on issues such as cavities or gum diseases, so oral cancer is often overlooked.
The NIDCR says that “oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat” and can develop:
- On the tongue
- On the tissue lining of the mouth and gums
- Under the tongue
- At the base of the tongue
- In the area of the throat at the back of the mouth
Oral cancer strikes twice as many men as women and usually occurs after the age 40.
Causes of oral cancer can include:
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol use
- Infection of the human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Sun exposure of the lip
“Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarette smoking, puts you at risk of developing oral cancers,” says the NIDCR. “Heavy alcohol use also increases the risk. Using both tobacco and alcohol increases the risk even further.”
Oral Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis
Dentists are trained to examine for oral cancer warning signs, but you can also look for the following symptoms, according to the NIDCR:
- A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in your mouth, lip, or throat.
- A white or red patch in your mouth.
- A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat.
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking.
- Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue.
- Swelling of your jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
- Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth.
- Ear pain.
“Because oral cancer can spread quickly, early detection is important,” says the NIDCR.
Exams by your dentist will only take a few minutes. They may check your mouth, lips, face, and neck for possible signs and if anything is detected they can refer you to an oral surgeon or other specialist for a biopsy.
Oral Cancer Treatment Plans
Your oral surgeon or other health care specialist can perform a biopsy to determine if you have oral cancer.
Once the biopsy results return, your provider will develop a personalized treatment plan, often consulting with other health care professionals.
NIDCR says the normal treatment plan when detected early is surgery or radiation therapy. They can often be combined in a single treatment plan.
Another option can be targeted therapy, with drugs or other substances used to identify and attack the cancerous cells.
NIDCR says that specialist that can treat oral cancer include:
- Oral and maxillofacial surgeons
- Head and neck surgeons
- Ear, nose, and throat doctors (otolaryngologists)
- Medical and radiation oncologists
Other health care professionals that can help you treat oral cancer include dentists, plastic surgeons, reconstructive surgeons, speech pathologists, oncology nurses, registered dietitians, and mental health counselors.
Performing an Oral Cancer Self-Exam
Taking these self-examination steps each month can help you identify new growths or any changes early:
- Remove dentures and any other removable devices from your mouth
- Using a mirror, look and feel inside your lips and the front of your gums
- Inspect the and feel the roof of your mouth by tilting your head back
- Inspect your cheeks and back of your gums by pulling your cheeks out
- Examine the top and bottom of your tongue
- Feel both side of your neck, including lower jaw, for any lumps or enlarged lymph nodes
Reach out to Norwest Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery today to consult a professional about your oral cancer concerns.