Like a shadowy figure hovering at the edge of the movie frame, cancer may be scariest when you can't see it clearly. That's why, instead of looking away, many people have chosen to take a proactive attitude toward the disease. They're learning about the benefits of prevention, early detection and treatment — and so can you. How much do you know about oral cancer? Here are five fast facts.
Oral cancer isn't just an older person's disease.
In the past, people over 40 years of age were the main population group in which oral cancer was found. But in recent years, a growing number of young people have also been diagnosed with the disease. The sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV16) is thought to be responsible for the increase in oral cancer among younger people.
Oral cancer can de deadly.
While it accounts for just 2-3% of all cancers, its survival rate is far lower than lots of cancers you've heard more about. Why? Because its symptoms can be hard to tell from more benign mouth sores, and isn't caught in the early stage often enough. When discovered in its later stages, the 5-year survival rate for this disease is just 58%.
There are several risk factors for oral cancer.
Moderate to heavy drinkers and users of tobacco products — whether smoked or smokeless — are at far greater risk than non-users. Chronic exposure to the sun, besides leading to skin cancer, is also clearly associated with cancers of the lip. And, because of HPV, the same risk factors for other sexually transmitted diseases apply to oral cancer as well. Genetic predisposition also plays a role, as it does in many other diseases.
Lifestyle choices can decrease the odds of getting oral cancer.
Obviously, giving up tobacco, moderating alcohol consumption and avoiding risky sexual behavior will mitigate these risk factors. But you can also lessen your chances of getting the disease by eating a healthy diet. Studies have shown that a high intake of fruits and vegetables is protective against oral cancer — and other cancers as well.
Early detection boosts the survival rate for oral cancer above 80%.
Yet the earliest symptoms of oral cancer are hard for many people to distinguish from common maladies like cold sores. What's the best way to detect it? Do something you should be doing anyway — get regular dental checkups! We're trained to find the signs of a potential problem via a quick, painless screening that can be done at your routine checkup. We can also schedule biopsies or other diagnostic tests if they're needed.
If you have concerns about oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Oral Cancer” and “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”