When Its Time to Speak Up About Oral Cancers

Cancer, as a topic, is generally a conversation stopper. Oral cancers can literally stop conversation completely. Unlike most cancers, which people merely prefer to avoid discussing, oral cancers can literally rob sufferers of their power of speech. So, let’s speak up about these cancers for those who no longer can speak for themselves.


First, A Look at the Numbers

132–The number of people who are diagnosed with mouth cancer on an average day in the United States.

80-90%–The survival rate when cancers are found early.

43%–The current 5 year death rate from mouth cancer in the United States.

24–The number of people of people expected to die every day in the US from mouth cancers.


The Main Causes of Oral Cancer

So, let’s talk about the numbers.

We tend to think of oral cancer as a rare condition, but it is more common than cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and thyroid cancers to name a few. The perception of oral cancer being rare actually leads to it being more dangerous because people are less likely to get screened for it and more likely to ignore early warning signs.


Early stage oral cancers are treatable. They tend to respond well to the multi-pronged approach of chemotherapy and radiation, sometimes combined with surgery. The tricky part is finding the cancer early. It often is subtle at early stages, not causing pain or noticeable discomfort to the sufferer in early stages. The good news is dentists and doctors both have the training and ability to spot oral cancers with a screening evaluation. They can spot the discolored patches and small lumps that indicate early growth. The bad news is there is not a set screening schedule for oral cancers like there is for other common cancers.


The 5 year death rate for oral cancers has remained largely the same in the US, and about 4 in 10 patients will die from the cancer within 5 years of diagnosis. So many people die because they don’t go to the dentist for screenings or don’t see a dentist who provides routine oral cancer screenings. Late stage cancers have already spread and are likely to require more radical, disfiguring surgery. Post treatment complications, like bones that can’t repair themselves or lack enough of a blood supply are more common with more advanced cancers.


Oral cancers tend to be lifestyle cancers, that is, they are usually caused by actions that can be controlled. The most common cause of oral cancers is still tobacco use. The decrease in smoking has lessened the incidence of lung cancer, but oral tobacco use has risen, and it has kept the oral cancer numbers high. Research has also found a clear link between HPV 16 (Human Papillomavirus type 16) and oral cancers. The oral cancer from HPV16 is harder to detect, develops further back in the mouth and throat, and responds more readily to treatment when it is diagnosed than tobacco driven cancers.


Any cancer that develops in the mouth and throat has the potential to rob its sufferers of the power of speech. Let’s not let these cancers perpetuate the silence. Speak up about oral cancer, and save a voice or, better yet, a life.


More information on oral cancer are available at the Oral Cancer Foundation oralcancerfoundation.org/

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