Oral Cancer Awareness Month

April 6, 2015

Dentist inspecting teeth using mirrorThe Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) is a non-profit entity dedicated to prevention of oral cancer and support for those suffering from the disease. They sponsor several different campaigns to raise awareness throughout the year, but especially during the month of April. Their goal is to “reduce suffering and save lives through prevention, education, research, advocacy, and patient support activities.” *

Prevention begins with educating people on what can cause oral cancer. The most recognized factors leading to cancer of the mouth, tongues, tonsils, throat and lips are continued exposure to alcohol and tobacco. More recently researchers have discovered a link between development of oral cancer and HPV-16, human papilloma virus, the same virus known to cause cervical cancer in women.

Statistics concerning oral cancer are staggering. The OCF states that in the United States alone, 45,750 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2015. That is approximately 115 new diagnoses every day, with one death each day attributed to this disease. Internationally the number of new cases per year exceeds 400,000. If found in the early stages, survival rates are 80-90%. Unfortunately most cases are not detected until they have reached later stages leading to a death rate of about 43% after five years. It isn’t that these cancers are most likely discovered at a late stage because they are difficult to detect, it is because there is not enough public education or push for screenings by medical and dental providers.

Screening for oral cancer can take less than 5 minutes and is typically incorporated into a regular check-up at the dental office. The dentist or dental hygienist checks the color and texture of the oral cavity, surrounding lips, the tongue and throat. A visual exam will reveal any variations from normal. Feeling for any lumps or bumps is also a beneficial screening method. Using gloved hands, a provider can feel the lips, cheeks, and tongue and check for inconsistencies between the left and right sides of the face and mouth.

Discovery of an area that varies from normal does not mean a person has oral cancer. A diagnosis is only delivered following a tissue biopsy and microscopic analysis of the cells. There are several common oral lesions that can be ruled out as cancerous through good communication with a patient. Typical things that may cause changes in the oral cavity include canker sores, burns from hot food, abrasion from poor tooth brushing technique, and self-induced trauma from oral habits. A dentist or dental hygienist that sees changes in the oral tissues should be asking questions to reveal the cause of a lesion and determine if further steps are needed for diagnosis.

Valuable information can be accessed by visiting the Oral Cancer Foundation website and browsing the hundreds of pages and links designed to educate the general public and health care professionals. Creating an awareness of oral cancer is the first step in prevention and education. This will hopefully lead to an increase in screening and a decrease in diagnosis and related deaths.


– *See more at: http://oralcancerfoundation.org/#sthash.OH6ejBVo.dpuf

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