When it comes to oral cancer mortality rates, two numbers are key: 40% and 90%.
40% of individuals who receive a late-stage diagnosis die within five years. However, the survival rate for early stage diagnosis is 90%.
Oral Cavity and Oropharynx—Mouth and Throat
Cancers that start in the mouth (or oral cavity) are termed oral cancers. The oral cavity consists of the inside tissue of the mouth and cheeks, the lips, the tissue below the tongue, the roof of the mouth, and the front two-thirds of the tongue. “Why only two-thirds of the tongue?” you might ask. Because the back third of the tongue is considered part of the throat. Throat cancers, or oropharyngeal cancers, start in the oropharynx, the part of the mouth behind the parts considered part of the oral cavity. The oropharynx is comprised of the soft palate, the tonsils, and the throat.
How Are Oral Cancers Diagnosed?
Some oral cancers generate symptoms which prompt the patient to see a doctor and others are discovered by dentists and doctors during exams. Thousands of lives could be saved every year if more individuals received regular screenings.
A visual oral cancer exam is relatively quick and convenient, especially as compared to other cancer screening tests such as colonoscopies and mammograms. If an abnormality is discovered during an exam, the patient is referred to an appropriate specialist for further testing and diagnosis.
Be proactive. Ask your dentist or doctor to perform an oral cancer screening during each evaluation or physical. If you have one or more risk factors, it’s critical to meet with your healthcare provider for advice on oral cancer screenings and prevention.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
- Tobacco use (cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or snuff)
- Heavy drinking
- Unhealthy diet
- HPV infection
- Weak immune system
- Frequent exposure to UV light (a risk factor for cancers of the lips)