What is Oral Cancer?

About-Oral-Cancer-Page-ImageOral Cancer is detected when an abnormal group of cells develops on the surface of the tongue, mouth, lips or gums. Less commonly, it can occur in the salivary glands, tonsils and the part of the throat leading from your mouth to your windpipe (the pharynx).

In early development, there may be no physical symptoms at all—therefore, patients may not even be aware of the disease’s presence. For this reason, routine, professional oral cancer screenings are of critical importance. If detected early (in stages 1 or 2), the survival rate among oral cancer patients may be as high as 80%-90%. However, when found in late stages (stages 3 or 4), the chances of survival are as low as 20%-30%. Unfortunately, in more than half the cases oral cancer is found in its later stages, a major factor in the high death rate.

Causes of Oral Cancer

Tobacco use is still the number one risk factor for oral cancer, with a higher incidence among older people. Human Papilloma Virus number 16 (HPV16)—a common, sexually transmitted virus— is closing the gap as it rises in the cause of oral cancers. This shift has also made people in a younger age range (25–50) the fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients. The same virus responsible for the majority of cervical cancers in women, HPV16 in oral cancer patients tends to localize in the back of the mouth, or in the tonsils, oropharynx, or at the base of the tongue, making it more difficult to detect.

Oral Cancer Screening

Oral cancer screening is a short, painless exam. During the exam, your dentist looks over the inside of your mouth to check for red or white patches or mouth sores. Your dentist also feels your neck and the tissues in your mouth to check for lumps or other abnormalities. Some dentists use special diagnostics in addition to screen for oral cancer.

As with cancers of the breast, cervix, skin, prostate, and colon, early detection is the key to successful treatment. Regular oral cancer screenings are an effective means of finding cancer at its early, highly curable stages.

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