THIS YEAR ALONE, 400,000 people throughout the world will be diagnosed with oral cancer. 40% of those diagnosed won’t live another five years. Oral cancer has such a dismal survival rate because it’s usually not detected until very late in its progression. Because April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, we’re encouraging everyone to get screened this year during their regularly scheduled checkups.

Why Oral Cancer Is On The Rise In Healthy, Young Non-Smokers

Smoking is linked to oral cancer. Tobacco use in many countries is declining, but oral cancer is still increasing every year. In fact, the fastest growing group of oral cancer sufferers are adults ages 25–50 who have never smoked! Why?

Studies indicate that this shift is due to the rise of a very common sexually transmitted infection—HPV, or human papillomavirus. Specifically, HPV #16 and #18, which are also linked to cervical cancer. Individuals with HPV are 32 times more likely to develop oral cancer. Contrast that with smoking, which makes a person 3 times more likely to develop oral cancer.

Education Helps Prevention And Early Detection

We understand that this can be a sensitive subject, but our team believes that people need to be informed about it. Dentists are one of the first lines of defense against this disease. Oral cancer groups around the world are asking dentists to do all they can to help educate patients, and to catch the disease early.

What Can You Expect From An Oral Cancer Screening At Our Practice?

A brief questionnaire is presented to all new patients, and annually after that. The questionnaire includes questions about social history (alcohol, tobacco use, etc.), and any familial history of cancer or other diseases. A soft tissue examination to catch pre-cancerous, and cancerous lesions is performed. This exam consists of visual examination of tissues in the mouth including, but not limited to lips, cheeks, tongue, floor and roof of mouth. Since your doctor cannot be with you everyday, it is very helpful to keep us informed of any new medications, habits, and even lesions you might notice in your mouth, or any other areas of concern.

What Can You Do To Guard Against Oral Cancer?

Prevention of Oral Cancer can be achieved in a number of ways. The first is avoiding carcinogens, or agents that can cause cancer. In the mouth, we call it the “Terrible Triad”. Smoking, alcohol, and poor oral hygiene, all predispose you to oral cancer.

HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), and is linked to Cervical Cancer (a form of cancer specific to females), and has recently been found to be a link in some oral cancers. There is a vaccine available, and it is highly recommended that everyone, especially young women, contact their physician about the vaccine. The vaccines available, however, are not approved for prevention of oral cancers associated with HPV, only cervical cancers. Be that as it may, the benefits far outweigh the risks of vaccination.

The last safeguard against oral cancer, as with all cancers, is early detection. Regular visits to your dentist with routine oral examinations can catch a cancerous lesion early, which raises treatment success rates considerably.

If you have questions, please ask us—even if it feels uncomfortable. We just want you to have good information that helps keep you healthy. You can always contact us or send us a private message on our Facebook page.

Other Resources:

Oral Cancer Foundation Press Release
What Is HPV?