Oral Cancer is Not Rare

The most commonly held myth about oral health might be that oral cancer is rare. The truth is that oral cancer is common.

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 50,000 Americans were diagnosed with oral/oropharyngeal cancer last year. Worldwide, the problem is exponentially greater. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of oral cancer and accounts for roughly 90 percent of all cancers of the head and neck. Of those diagnosed, only half will be maxillofacial cancer - paid - Depositphotos 13282076 m-2015alive in five years.

Oral cancers related to the HPV virus continue to increase, but these cancers are more receptive to treatment protocols. It is frustrating that we do not have the same kind of success with prevention and diagnosis that we have achieved with other types of oral cancer. The treatment of oral cancer is especially brutal, often leaving scars that will remain for the rest of a patient’s life.

Consider, if you will, these statistics about oral cancer:

  • There are 240 billion people over the age of 16 in the US.
  • In 2017, 49,670 new cases of oral/oropharyngeal cancer were diagnosed.
  • One in every 4,831 people will be diagnosed every year with oral/oropharyngeal cancer.

HPV related cancers are difficult to diagnose because of the challenges in visual and tactile examination. HPV appears most often in the lymphoid tissues (tonsillar areas, posterior base of the tongue, and the oropharyngeal area. Thus, a critical part of diagnosis relies upon patient interviews.

The most common symptoms of HPV-related cancers are:

  • A sore or ulcer that does not heal within 14 days.
  • Red, white, or black discoloration of soft tissues in the mouth.
  • An abnormality that bleeds easily when touched.
  • A lump or hard spot in the tissue – usually on the border of the tongue.
  • Tissue that protrudes higher than the surrounding tissue.
  • A sore under a denture that does not heal after adjustment of the denture.
  • A developing lump or thickening in the mouth.
  • A painless fixated lump that is firm on the outside of the neck that has persisted for at least 2 weeks.

In some cases, less common symptoms will be present:

  • Sore throat or hoarseness that does not resolve within a few weeks.
  • Constant coughing that does not stop after some days.
  • Difficulty swallowing, with the feeling that food is unable to pass through the throat.
  • Ear ache on one side that lasts for more than 14 days.

No cancer or pre-cancerous condition should be ignored. Nor should you delay in seeing your dentist. Dentists and hygienists check for signs of cancer when you are in our office. You should also be aware of these symptoms and notify your dentist immediately if you identify any of them. Together, we have a greater opportunity to catch these cancers earlier and to prevent further development.