Oral cancer is usually divided into two categories. The first is cancer that develops in the oral cavity, which includes the lips, inside of the lips and cheeks, teeth, gums and the front of the tongue. The second is cancer that develops in the oropharynx, which includes the middle region of the throat, from the base of the tongue to the tonsils.
You should know about this disease in order to prevent it, if possible, and get treatment as soon as you are diagnosed.
The Five-Year Survival Rate is 57 Percent
The five-year survival rate for oral cancer is only 57 percent. Sadly, this number has not gone up in recent years. The oral cancer death rate is higher than cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma or thyroid cancer. Almost 50,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with the disease this year and 9,750 will die from it. This is roughly equivalent to at least one person dying per hour, every hour of the day.
It’s Usually Discovered in Later Stages
The reason the survival rate is low is because this cancer is usually discovered in its later stages after it has already metastasized to another location, such as the lymph nodes of the neck. At this point, treatment is less effective because it has had time to spread deep into the surrounding tissues.
Your Dentist and Oral Surgeon Can Help
The most effective way to protect your health is to continue to get regular dental exams. Dentists and their teams are trained to spot irregularities in the mouth tissues. Sores, red or white patches, lumps, thickening of the tissues, problems swallowing or chewing or changes in the way your jaws fit together could point to cancer.
While you may think nothing of it, your dentist can record your symptoms and refer you to an oral surgeon who has knowledge about oral pathologies to further investigate the issue. This is how oral cancer is diagnosed in earlier stages. And when it is diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent versus 57 percent.
You Can Take Steps to Reduce Your Risk
Besides being proactive and getting regular oral care, you can take other steps to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer. Oral cancer risk goes up if you smoke tobacco or drink alcohol. Sun exposure is another risk factor. Always wear protective lip balm when you go outside for long periods of time.
Of course, focusing on whole-body health through regular exercise and a balanced diet will also contribute to your long-term well-being.
We are oral surgeons with experience in diagnosing and treating oral pathologies. Trust Richmond Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery for referrals and treatment if your dentist or doctor spots oral cancer symptoms.