What You Must Know About Oral Cancers

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April 22, 2014


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This post is available in: Spanish

Oral cancer is on the rise according to The Oral Cancer Foundation. Although the numbers of those diagnosed with oral cancer are not as high as some of the numbers for other cancers – like colon, breast and lung – oral cancer has seen a steady increase during the past five years.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that in 2014 approximately 42,440 people in the United States will be diagnosed with some form of oral cancer, and there will be 8,390 deaths.  Oral cancer used to be thought of as a rare cancer, but this is no longer the case. Today approximately 115 individuals are diagnosed with the disease each day and one person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day, the NIH reports.

“Oral cancer is defined as any cancer that forms in the mouth, the gums, jaws, the back of the tongue, the back of the mouth or the throat at the back of the mouth,” says Joseph McCain, DMD, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon specializing in orthognathic and facial reconstructive surgery. “The three major causes of oral cancer are alcohol and tobacco use, and the human papillomavirus (HPV).”

“Today we are seeing more and more oral cancers because of HPV,” he says. “The HPV virus, developing in younger people, is unlike any cancer we usually deal with because HPV is a virus that passes from one person to another.  Most cancers do not.”

So what can you do?

One thing that you can easily do is ask your dentist to perform an oral and neck screening.  Dr. McCain says the test is easy, quick and painless.

If you are a parent, you should strongly consider having your children (girls and boys) vaccinated for HPV.  HPV is a common skin-to-skin infection, not always sexually transmitted, that is associated with several types of cancer. When the HPV vaccine first came out in 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended it for girls only, since the disease was most closely associated with cervical cancer. But additional studies have linked HPV to several other cancers, such as throat and mouth, which also affect men. That led to FDA approval of the vaccine for boys in 2009.

Dr. McCain recommends adults see their doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:   

  • Hoarseness
  • Sore throat
  • Troubling swallowing
  • Lump in the neck
  • A sore (red or white) in the oral cavity that doesn’t heal
  • Nosebleeds

Treatment for oral cancer is similar to other cancer treatments using one or all of the treatment options available – surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination. As with many cancers, early detection saves lives, and there is an urgent need to increase awareness of the disease.

 “The cure is directly related to early detection,” says Dr. McCain. “The earlier you catch the cancer, the better your chance of a cure.  The burden is on the patient.  If you ignore your symptoms, the cancer will be advanced and the outcome will not be as favorable.”

This week is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week.  In an effort to educate the community about the disease, Baptist Health is hosting a luncheon with Eva Grayzel, a 15-year cancer survivor of oral cancer.  Her presentation titled “An Inspirational Journey” will be held at the Baptist Health Resource Center on Friday, April 25 from 12 noon – 1 p.m. 

For more information and registration email Programs@BaptistHealth.net or call 786-596-3812.

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