And you might should be sitting down for this:

  • Nearly 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year.
  • It will cause over 9,750 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours per day.
  • Of those newly diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years.
  • The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cancers which we hear about routinely, such as cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, and endocrine system cancers such as thyroid.

These are disturbing numbers, but even more disturbing is the fact that a staggering 62% of adults in the United States know very little or nothing at all about the disease. This lack of awareness and education about oral cancer could account for its high death rate. The death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high, not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development. Another obstacle to early discovery (and resulting better outcomes) is the advent of the virus, HPV16, which contributes more to the incidence rate of oral cancers.


So here’s what you need to know: Tobacco use in all of its forms and alcohol are major risk factors for developing oral cancer, and cause the vast majority of oral cancers. But research shows how little US adults know about other risk factors for oral cancer, particularly the connection between oral cancer and oral human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease. HPV can cause cancers in the back of the throat, most commonly in the base of the tongue and tonsils, in an area known as the “oropharynx.” These cancers are called “oropharyngeal cancers.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that up to 70% of oropharyngeal cancers may be associated with HPV.

Where Can You Find Signs Of Oral Cancer?

The oral cavity includes your lips, cheek lining, gums, front part of your tongue, floor of the mouth beneath the tongue, and the hard palate that makes up the roof of your mouth. The throat (pharynx) starts at the soft part of the roof of your mouth and continues back into your throat. It includes the back section of your tongue, as well as the base where the tongue attaches to the floor of your mouth. Oral cancer is divided into two categories – those occurring in the oral cavity, and those occurring in the oropharynx.

It’s important to be aware of the following signs and symptoms and to see your dentist if they do not disappear after two weeks.

  • A sore or irritation that doesn’t go away
  • Red or white patches
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth

Some people complain of a sore throat, feeling like something is caught in their throat, numbness, hoarseness or a change in voice. If you have any of these symptoms, let your dentist know, especially if you’ve had them for two weeks or more.*

Kimbrough Dental performs oral cancer screenings at each dental exam, and can provide more information on the risk factors and more. If you notice anything suspicious in your oral cavity or oropharynx, schedule an appointment right away to rule out any problems.

Learn more about this deadly disease at the Oral Cancer Foundation.

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