Oral Cancer

Approximately 35,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States. Some 25 percent of those people will die of the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, oral cancer occurs almost as frequently as leukemia and claims more lives than melanoma or cervical cancer. Oral cancers incidence is rising among women, young people and non-smokers.

Routine, careful examination of patients is appropriate and necessary. This can easily be achieved during a regular dental visit. The stage at which an oral cancer is diagnosed is critical to the course of the disease. When detected at its earliest stage, oral cancer is more easily treated and cured. When detected late, the overall five-year survival rate is about 50 percent.

Facts About Oral Cancer

Incidence and Mortality

  • Oral cancer strikes an estimated 34,360 Americans each year. An estimated 7,550 people (5,180 men and 2,370 women) will die of these cancers in 2007.1
  • More than 25% of the 30,000 Americans who get oral cancer will die of the disease.2
  • On average, only half of those diagnosed with the disease will survive more than five years.4
  • African-Americans are especially vulnerable; the incidence rate is 1/3 higher than whites and the mortality rate is almost twice as high.5

Risk Factors

  • Although the use of tobacco and alcohol are risk factors in developing oral cancer, approximately 25% of oral cancer patients have no known risk factors.6, 7
  • There has been a nearly five-fold increase in incidence in oral cancer patients under age 40, many with no known risk factors8, 9, 10, 11.
  • The incidence of oral cancer in women has increased significantly, largely due to an increase in women smoking. In 1950 the male to female ratio was 6:1; by 2002, it was 2:1.

Prevention and Detection

  • The best way to prevent oral cancer is to avoid tobacco and alcohol use.
  • Regular dental check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions.
  • Many types of abnormal cells can develop in the oral cavity in the form of red or white spots. Some are harmless and benign, some are cancerous and others are pre-cancerous, meaning they can develop into cancer if not detected early and removed. (American Cancer Society)
  • Finding and removing epithelial dysplasias before they become cancer can be one of the most effective methods for reducing the incidence of cancer.
  • Knowing the risk factors and seeing your dentist for oral cancer screenings can help prevent this deadly disease. Routine use of the Pap smear since 1955, for example, dramatically reduced the incidence and mortality rates for cervical cancer in the United States.12
  • Oral cancer is often preceded by the presence of clinically identifiable premalignant changes. These lesions may present as either white or red patches or spots. Identifying white and red spots that show dysplasia and removing them before they become cancer is an effective method for reducing the incidence and mortality of cancer.

References

  1. American Cancer Society.
  2. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, website 2007.
  3. American Cancer Society web page.
  4. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, website 2007.
  5. American Cancer Society, Facts and Figures for African-Americans.
  6. Schantz SP, Yu GP. Head and neck cancer incidence trends in young Americans, 1973-1997, with a special analysis for tongue cancer. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Mar 2002;128(3):268-274.
  7. Lingen M, Sturgis EM, Kies MS. Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck in nonsmokers: clinical and biologic characteristics and implications for management. Curr Opin Oncol. May 2001;13(3):176-182.
  8. Shiboski CH, Shiboski SC, Silverman S, Jr. Trends in oral cancer rates in the United States, 1973-1996. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. Aug 2000;28(4):249-25.
  9. Llewellyn CD, Johnson NW, Warnakulasuriya KA. Risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity in young peoplea comprehensive literature review. Oral Oncol. Jul 2001;37(5):401-418.
  10. Corcoran TP, Whiston DA. Oral cancer in young adults. J Am Dent Assoc. Jun 2000;131(6):726.
  11. Dahlstrom, K. R et al. Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck in never smoker-never drinkers: A descriptive epidemiologic study. Head Neck 2007.
  12. American Cancer Society (In the United States, the cervical cancer death rate declined by 74% between 1955 and 1992, in large part due to the effectiveness of Pap smear screening.) web facts.

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