April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. We hear a lot about cancer these days, but oral cancer is not usually one people think of. Statistics show that 1 person each hour of each day die of oral cancer. That is 24 people per day that die from this terrible cancer. Oral cancer is one of the only cancers that numbers are actually on the RISE. Unfortunately, the survival rates for oral cancer are less than encouraging. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, less than 60% of individuals diagnosed will survive past the 5-year mark.
With statistics like that, it never hurts to have more information on this topic. Part of the poor survival rates associated with oral cancer are due to the fact that most of the time it is not diagnosed until it has spread to other organs (aka metastasized). At this point, the treatment for oral cancer can be especially aggressive and very devastating.
While historically, smoking and drinking have been the biggest risk factors for oral cancer, in recent years, a subgroup of oral cancers, oropharyngeal cancers, have gained more attention for their association with the human papilloma virus (HPV-16). HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, and before you think that there is no way you have been exposed, note that the CDC states that roughly 75% of the American population has in fact been exposed to the human papilloma virus. It was previously thought that the older population was more at risk for oral cancers, but with the oropharyngeal cancers associated with HPV-16 infections, a noticeably younger population (under 40) is being affected. The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons also points out that 25% of oral cancer patients have no risk factors. All of that being said, it is important for all of us, no matter how young or old, be aware of what to keep an eye out for when it comes to oral cancer.
So, am I telling you that so that you can worry about one more ailment you may have to face one day? No, but since it is oral cancer AWARENESS month, I want you to be informed and aware.
Here are some things that you can look out for:
- Sores on your face or in your mouth that do not heal
- Persistent sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Discolored (red or white) patches in your mouth
- Any lumps or bumps that do not go away
- Any swelling of face, mouth, or neck
If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your dentist or your doctor ASAP.
At the end of the day, you should be having your teeth cleaned every 6 months, and your dentist and/or hygienist should be doing an oral cancer screening yearly. So, keep going in for routine dental care and if you have any questions about oral cancer or the screening they do, ask away!
Check out these sources I used below if you want any additional information on oral cancer, feel free to ask me any questions, and help spread the word!