April of 2018 is Oral Cancer Awareness Month — an opportunity for dental professionals and their patients to increase awareness of this “quiet killer”. Unlike some of the other more common forms of cancer we hear so much about, oral cancer isn’t on a lot of people’s radar most of the time.
But, a brief look at the facts surrounding this disease prove that it certainly warrants our attention, and deserves every effort toward treatment and prevention.
Following are 12 facts about oral (in or around the mouth) or oropharyngeal (nose and throat) cancer to ponder and share as we head into Oral Cancer Awareness Month:
- Oral cancers are more than twice as common in men as in women, but there is no difference among races.
- The average age of diagnosis is 62, but it can occur in young people. However, it is rare, as just 25% of cases occur in patients younger than 55.
- About 90% of oral cancer patients use tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases in line with how much tobacco is used and how long the patient has smoked or chewed tobacco.
- Smokers are six times more likely to develop these cancers than nonsmokers.
- Smokeless tobacco (“snuff” or chewing tobacco) increases the risk of these cancers by about 50 times.
- An estimated 25% of oral cancer patients have no known risk factors.
- Close to 51,540 Americans will be diagnosed with oral oropharyngeal cancer in 2018.
- It will cause over 10,030 deaths, killing more than 1 person every single hour.
- Of those 51,540 newly diagnosed individuals, only about 57% will be alive in 5 years.
- Historically, the death rate is particularly high because it is routinely discovered late in its development. In its early stages it will often thrive without producing pain or symptoms patients will notice.
- Oral cancer is also especially dangerous because it has a high risk of producing second primary tumors. This means that oral cancer survivors have up to a 20 times higher risk of developing a second cancer.
- This heightened risk factor can last up to 10 years after the first occurrence.
- Tobacco and alcohol are the largest risk factors for oral cancer, so the best way to prevent it is to never start smoking, using smokeless tobacco, or drinking to excess.
- If you use tobacco now, quit.
- If you drink, reduce your alcohol intake.
- To avoid getting cancer of the lips, which is a form of skin cancer, stay inside or in the shade at midday when the sun’s rays are most damaging. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, and use lip protection with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
- Performing a self-examination regularly increases the chance of identifying changes or new growths early.
Finally, do not underestimate the importance of visiting your dentist regularly for a general examination. It’s during these routine visual exams that dentists are usually the first individuals to recognize and diagnose early warning signs of oral and oropharyngeal cancer.
Don’t be a statistic. Join us in learning and spreading the word about oral cancer this April during Oral Cancer Awareness Month.https://www.cancer.org/cancer/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html