Oral Cancer Screening

Oral cancer is defined as cancer of the lip, tongue, floor of the mouth, palate, throat, parts for the nose, and larynx. According to the Center for Disease Control, each year, more than 30,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed and over 8,000 deaths occur as of result of it.

Tobacco use (cigarette, pipe, cigar smoking, and chewing), particularly when combined with heavy alcohol consumption, has been identified as the primary risk factor for approximately 75% of oral cancers in the United States. However, other factors that can place a person at risk for these cancers are viral infections, immune deficiencies, poor nutrition, exposure to ultraviolet light (a major cause of cancer to the lips), and certain occupational exposures.

Persons who have oral cancer often develop multiple primary lesions and are more likely to develop a secondary cancer somewhere within oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, larynx, or lungs. 95% oral cancer occurs among persons aged greater than 40 years, and the average age at diagnosis is 60 years. Despite aggressive combinations of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, the average 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is quite poor at 50%. In contrast to other cancers (e.g. breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers) the overall U.S. survival rate from oral and pharyngeal cancer has not improved during the past
16 years.

Methods used to treat oral cancers (surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy) are disfiguring and costly. Preventing high risk behaviors, that include cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking, use of smokeless tobacco, and excessive use of alcohol are critical in preventing oral cancers. Therefore, diagnosing cancers at an early stage is crucial to improving survival rate and reducing morbidity.

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer:

  • A mouth sore that fails to heal or that bleeds easily
  • A white or red patch in the mouth that will not go away
  • A lump, thickening or soreness in the mouth, throat, or tongue
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing food

Most early signs of oral cancer are painless and are difficult to detect without a thorough head and neck examination by a dental or medical professional.

Oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers occur on anatomic sites that lend themselves to early diagnosis and treatment. Detection of oral cancer through periodic medical and dental examinations can significantly reduce the risk of these life-threatening cancers.