This April was Oral Cancer Awareness Month, an annual effort to increase the discussion around this serious subject and encourage more people to get screened for the disease. This is a very important discussion to have because it affects tens of thousands of people every year.
Despite the severity, though, a lot of people don’t realize that it’s a problem. Unfortunately, this leads to many people putting off their regular dental checkups or screenings, and then a diagnosis can’t be made until it’s too late.
To help expand this discussion, we wanted to take a look at some of the important facts and statistics.
A Closer Look at the Statistics
The National Cancer Institute provides a number of important statistics that highlight the importance of awareness of this disease. So, let’s start by looking at these statistics.
- 49,670 – The estimated new cases of oral cancer in 2017.
- 9,700 – The estimated deaths that result from this condition.
- 5% – The percentage of people who survive 5 years or more after being diagnosed.
- 55 to 64 – The age at which people are most frequently diagnosed.
The Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
Part of understanding this disease is knowing the risk factors. So, let’s take a look at the things that may increase a person’s chances for this form of cancer.
- A history of tobacco or heavy alcohol use (especially when using tobacco and alcohol together)
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- A weakened immune system
- Poor diet, nutrition, and oral hygiene can increase your risk
- Men are also more likely to be at risk than women
It’s also important to understand that the stage in which the cancer is diagnosed can have a huge impact on how the patient will receive treatment. The earlier oral cancer is detected, the more likely the patient can be treated. In fact, the 5-year survival rate increases from 64.5% to 83.7%.
The good news is that more people have been getting the screenings and treatments that are needed, and the survival rate has gone up significantly since 1975 (when the survival rate was around 52%).
You Can Do a Self-Exam
If you’re concerned about these risk factors, or have noticed some possible symptoms, there are some simple things you can do to check things out for yourself (though this should just be as a preliminary measure before going in for a dental appointment). This method of self-examination will help you spot any potential problems.
- Look and feel inside the lips and the front of the gums
- Inspect the roof of your mouth
- Check inside the surface of the cheeks and the back of the gums
- Look at all sides of the tongue
- Check for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes in the sides of your neck and under the lower jaw
What Should You Look For?
So, now that we’ve looked at the methodology for self-diagnosis, let’s consider exactly what you should be looking for. These are some of the common symptoms for oral cancer, and if you spot any of them, be sure to mention it at your next appointment.
- Red or white patches (or both) on the soft tissues
- Sores that don’t heal and bleed rather easily
- Abnormal lumps or thick tissues in the mouth
- Constant or chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- A lump or lumps in the neck area
Early diagnosis is critical to receive the necessary treatment, so make sure you make your appointments and come in and get checked on a regular basis.