For more than 15 years, the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) has worked to raise awareness of mouth and throat cancers in the month of April. Oral Cancer Awareness Month is increasingly important considering it is one of two types of cancer on the rise in the U.S. - the other being cancers related to obesity.1 However, despite how commonly this disease occurs, many people don't get checked for oral cancer. The OCF, along with partners such as the American Dental Association, urges dental practices to provide free screenings during the month of April, and to spread general awareness of the risk factors related to this disease.
"The dental community needs to be the first line of defense against oral cancer," Brian Hill, founder and executive director of the Oral Cancer Foundation, said in a statement. "Just performing 'opportunistic' five-minute oral cancer screenings of the existing patient population that visits a dental office every day could have a profound impact on our ability to discover the disease at earlier, even precancerous, stages. These are also public education opportunities, instilling in American minds the warning signs of a developing oral cancer. An engaged professional dental community combined with an informed public could help us dramatically reduce the mortality and morbidity of this disease."1
Oral cancer is more common than most people realize
The fact is oral cancer is a common problem, with more than 45,000 new diagnoses each year in the U.S. alone, according to the OCF.2 The organization also notes that approximately one person in the U.S. dies every hour due to this disease. Of those diagnosed each year, only 57 percent will survive more than five years following the diagnosis. One of the main reasons oral cancer is so deadly is because it's often found late in development, despite being relatively easy to detect. This is due to general unawareness of the disease and only adds to the importance of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Screenings should be a regular part of every person's oral health regimen, especially those of men since the disease is more common among them.
The OCF notes that oral cancer often isn't detected until it has already metastasized, meaning that it has moved to other locations in the body such as lymph nodes.3 Moreover, these cancers generally don't cause noticeable pain, meaning that those with oral cancer may not even realize there is a problem until the disease has advanced. Even if you experience no symptoms, Oral Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time to get a screening to ensure that you are in good health.
The cause of oral cancer is changing
The National Cancer Institute states that common risk factors for oral cancer include HPV infection, tobacco usage, high alcohol consumption, family history, sun exposure and poor dieting.4 In the past, oral cancer has been mainly linked to smoking and tobacco usage, but HPV is increasingly becoming a common cause of the disease. The OCF notes that some doctors are already calling oral cancer caused by HPV an epidemic, and that non-smoking individuals are the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population.1 Importantly, HPV is largely preventable with the use of vaccines and safe sex practices. Moving forward, HPV prevention and spreading awareness of the dangers of smoking will be important aspects of reducing rates of oral cancer worldwide.
Each April, check in with your dentist's office to see if they provide free screenings and learn more about oral cancer.
1 "Oral Cancer Foundation Sponsors 15th Annual Oral Cancer Awareness Month in April 2014," The Oral Cancer Foundation. http://oralcancerfoundation.org/presskit/ocf-pr.php
2 "About Oral Cancer Awareness Month," The Oral Cancer Foundation. http://oralcancerfoundation.org/events/oral-cancer-awareness-month.php
3 "Oral Cancer Facts," The Oral Cancer Foundation. http://www.oralcancerfoundation.org/facts/
4 "What you need to know about oral cancer," the National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/WYNTK_oral.pdf