Eating, drinking, speaking, and smiling – our mouths play a significant role in our overall health and well-being. We often undervalue the importance of our mouth and oral care. This is probably why oral cancers are often overlooked and discovered too late in their development.
The mouth (oral cavity) can easily be examined, suggesting that it should be easy to detect cancer of the oral cavity at an early stage. Yet, in 2020 an estimated 53, 260 new persons developed oral and pharyngeal cancers and 10,750 persons died due to this disease in the United States. Unfortunately, incidences of these cancers have increased in the last 20 years. The overall 5-year relative survival rate of these cancers in the U.S. is 66.2 percent. Only 29 percent of these cases are detected at localized stage (confined to primary site only), when the 5-year survival rate is 85 percent. This means that half of the current deaths can be prevented by starting a mechanism to detect these cancers at an early stage.
In fact, the majority of these cancers can be prevented by a life-style change. Let’s get empowered to effectively fight this dreadful disease.
Who is More Likely to get Oral and Pharyngeal Cancers?
Despite tremendous advances, medical science cannot predict the chances of getting any cancer in a specific person, but the rate of new cases of cancer (cancer incidence) in populations is known. Based on 2013-2017 data, about 11.4 per 100,000 persons get this disease every year (114 persons in 1 million population). Males contract more of these cancers.
Use of tobacco (in any form), alcohol use, and infection with human papilloma virus are major causes. However, many persons without any of these risk factors are also known to have developed cancers of the oral cavity or pharynx. Therefore, it is important that everyone in the community remain vigilant about this disease. Fortunately, since oral cancers can be detected simply by clinical examination, patients can screen themselves for any changes in their mouths and can bring these concerns to their dentist or physician for further examination of the oral cavity and pharynx. Majority of the annual 53,000 cases of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx can be prevented.
What are Oral Potentially Malignant Disorders?
Cancers of the oral cavity are preceded by a stage called oral-potentially-malignant-disorders (OPMD). OPMDs are pre-cancerous lesions that have higher chances of developing oral cancers. OPMD can be observed ten or more years before the cancer develops. OPMD has several forms, but all can be easily seen only by a good clinical examination. Additionally, OPMDs can be cured by themselves, but one needs to be vigilant about persistent OPMDs. A Dentist or Physician will look at the same lesion after 2 to 3 weeks and will determine if the size of the lesion is increasing or decreasing. Further treatment of these lesions can prevent development of oral cancers. The treatment of OPMDs is much less invasive than treatment of cancers. All dentists are trained to detected OPMDs and early cancers. Pre-cancerous stage of cancers of the oral cavity can be detected more than 10 years in advance.
What Can I do to Prevent Oral Cancers?
Some areas in the world have established oral cancer screening programs. Under these programs, all adults are examined periodically for presence of OPMDs or cancers, generally once every three years. Repeated examinations ensure that no one with a tendency to develop OPMD is missed.
The U.S. does not have an oral cancer screening program. But patients can still protect themselves through self-examination, check-ups, and vigilance. Insurance provides for a free dental check up every six months. During your next visit, bring any concerns to your dentist and don’t be afraid to ask for clinical examination and screening for OPMD.
To prevent oral cancers:
Conduct a self-examination at least once a month
Visit the dentist every six months for routine exams
Get yourself screened for oral pre-cancers and cancers
Don’t smoke or use any tobacco products and decrease alcohol use
Have concerns with your oral health?Roseman Dental is committed to providing high-quality, affordable dental care for children, teens, and adults. Our dedicated resident and faculty dentists are ready to serve you and your oral health needs. Contact Roseman Dental to request a dental examination today!
Kishore Chaudhry, MD
Research Associate Professor Roseman University College of Dental Medicine Dr. Chaudhry has over three decades of extensive research experience. A physician by background and a senior scientist in the fields of oncology and public health, he has been recognized as a preeminent epidemiologist worldwide. His contributions to the fields of tobacco and cancer research, oral cancer in particular, have played a critical role in several health policy changes, and planning control measures. With extensive research grant experience, Dr. Chaudhry has garnered millions of dollars in grant support from various national and international organizations. Over the last two decades, he has served on several expert planning committees with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international agencies. He has published extensively in various peer-reviewed journals and authored several book chapters in the topics of cancer research, tobacco control, asthma, and health care expenditure. He is an active reviewer and serves on the editorial board of numerous peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Chaudhry has held key administrative positions in academia as well as in health sector of the Indian government. During his tenure as the Dean and Chair of the Departments of Community and Family Medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS, Bhopal), one of the most reputable educational institutions in India, he was instrumental in the initiation and development of multiple new programs and departments and laid a strong research foundation. The most notable role that defines Dr. Chaudhry’s research accomplishments is his journey as an accomplished researcher to being the Director Level Scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which is equivalent to the National Institute of Health (NIH). His extensive experience in multi-specialty and multi-center projects provided him the ability to work in different environments and design studies in accordance with constraints of different scientists and institutions.
Roseman University’s American Student Dental Association (ASDA) is putting on the 4th Annual Oral Cancer Foundation 5K Walk/ Run for Awareness on Saturday, April 8 from 9am to 2pm at the East Riverfront Park (10991 South Riverfront Parkway, South Jordan, UT 84095).
Come join Roseman to raise funding and awareness for this disease that has affected thousands. There will be speakers and doctors at the event to talk about their experiences. There will also be FREE oral cancer screening! Bring your kids, family and friends!
To register for the event, please click on the button below.
If you can’t make it to the event and still want to donate to the cause, please click the button below.
Saturday, April 8
9am to 2pm
East Riverfront Park
10991 South Riverfront Parkway
South Jordan, UT 84095
The term “oral cancer” is actually a broad term that covers several different types of cancers that might affect your lips, mouth, nose, larynx, and throat (the oral cavity). While these cancers don’t garner as much attention as breast cancer or lymphoma, they are still very dangerous.
The Oral Cancer Foundation reports that over 54,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral, larynx, or pharyngeal cancer this year, and only slightly more than half of those diagnosed will still be alive in five years—a number that has not significantly improved in the last few decades, even as survival rates increase for other cancers.
“Part of what makes oral cancer so dangerous is the difficulty in diagnosing the disease,” said Dr. Aaron Ferguson, Director of Public Health Sciences Education and Assistant Professor at Roseman University of Health Sciences’ College of Dental Medicine. “The symptoms might not produce pain or other obvious signs, or might mimic other conditions and thus go untreated and undiagnosed until the cancer has reached a more advanced stage.”
This is especially true for patients who don’t have a “dental home”, according to Ferguson. A dental home is a specific place where a patient routinely visits the same dentist. Often the visible signs of developing oral cancers can be identified by a dentist, but it is much easier for the dentist to notice changes if he or she has been seeing the patient over a long period of time. For patients who rarely or never visit the dentist, or frequently change dental care providers, these subtle changes are harder to spot.
In addition, a new virus called HPV16 has contributed to a rise in oral cancer cases that manifest in the back of the mouth and throat, and often don’t produce visible lesions or discoloration that dentists can readily identify as a warning sign.
How to Check for Oral Cancer
There are a few signs you can look for to identify oral cancers, and along with regular dental checkups and screenings these things can help you spot cancer earlier and get proper treatment. These signs include:
Mouth sores that don’t heal
Lumps or thick skin in the lips or soft tissue inside your mouth
White or red patches on the inside of the mouth
Changes to the way dentures fit
Tongue, jaw, or throat pain
Difficulty or pain when swallowing and chewing
A lump or feeling of something caught in your throat
“If you notice any of these signs, call your dentist immediately,” advises Dr. Ferguson. If you don’t have a dentist you can visit the Dental Clinic at Roseman University in South Jordan for affordable, high quality care by Doctor of Dental Medicine students and faculty.
Lowering Your Risk for Oral Cancers
In addition to checking for oral cancer, there are things you can do to help lower your risk of developing the disease.
Quit smoking and immediately stop using any type of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
Eat a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
Protect your lips with a lip balm that includes SPF whenever you are going to be out in the sun
Get checked for the sexually transmitted virus human papillomavirus (HPV)
Find a “dental home” and get regular checkups and screenings from your dentist, especially if you are over the age of 40 and have any other potential risk factors
Oral cancer treatments generally include a mix of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted drugs depending on the location and stage of the cancer, as well as your overall health.
While you may not be able to control all your risk factors, understanding the dangers of oral cancer and getting regular screenings can help you discover and diagnose it at an earlier stage, which often leads to better outcomes.
Oral cancer kills approximately one individual every hour of every day and still has one of the lowest survival rates of any form of cancer, with only about 50 percent of newly diagnosed patients who will still be alive in five years. Despite many advances in cancer treatment, many people are still unaware of the dangers of oral cancer and it often goes undiagnosed until it reaches later stages, which makes treatment very difficult.
On April 9, students from Roseman University’s chapter of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) will host the third annual Oral Cancer Awareness Walk/Run to raise awareness about this disease, and raise funds to donate to the Oral Cancer Foundation.
Everyone from the community is invited to join us for the Oral Cancer Awareness Run/Walk, and stay for free oral health screenings, raffle prizes, and more.
It has become extremely important to have regular health examinations to prevent or discover any early signs of cancer or other diseases, since modern medicine often provides many treatment options for cancers and other diseases when they are caught early. This stands true for dental health as well. Dentists find approximately 84 percent of oral cancer cases when doing screenings on patients and individuals who have either found an abnormal growth or those who might be at heightened risk due to factors such as age, family history, alcohol use, or tobacco use. It is important to ask your dentist if he or she feels you need an oral screening.
Oral Cancer Screening
Here is what you can expect when it comes to an oral cancer screening.
There is no special preparation you need prior to an oral cancer screening, and screenings are typically performed during a regular dental visit.
If you are wearing any sort of dentures or removable implants, your dental professional should remove those before the examination begins.
Some dentists will ask you to rinse your mouth with a special blue dye prior to the examination. The dye will absorb into abnormal cells, making them more visible for the dentist.
Your dentist should examine and inspect the inside and outside of your gums and cheeks throughout your entire mouth. Your lips and the floor and roof of your mouth will also be inspected for any patches or sores.
Your lymph nodes, jaw area and around your ears will be checked.
Expect your dentist to ask you to stick out your tongue and say “ahhh” in order to examine the back of your throat and mouth.
If your dental care provider does find anything that looks abnormal, he or she may recommend a couple of options. One is a “wait and see” approach with a simple follow-up visit to see if the irregular area is still there after a few weeks. If your dentist believes you might be at risk or that the abnormality is severe, he or she will often recommend a biopsy to remove a sample of cells to be tested for cancer.
Oral cancer screenings are very simple and practically stress-free for you; however they are extremely important for your overall health.