Oral Health Topics

Oral Cancer


Routine, careful examination of patients for oral and pharyngeal cancer, in addition to an updated health history, can easily be achieved during a regular dental visit. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research describes one method.1 The stage at which an oral or pharyngeal cancer is diagnosed is critical to the course of the disease. When detected at its earliest stage, these cancers are more easily treated.

Facts About Oral Cancer

Incidence and Mortality

According to statistics available through the National Cancer Institute2:
•Oral and pharyngeal cancer strikes an estimated 39,000 Americans each year. An estimated 8,000 people die of these cancers annually.
•The disease occurs twice as often in men as in women.
•Although the difference between races in oral and pharyngeal cancer is negligible, the 5-year survival rate doubles for white men over African American men (the difference in survival rates between women is not significant).
•An estimated 1 in 95 adults will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer in their lifetime.
•The median age at diagnosis is 62 years (that figure may drop to 52 to 56 years for people who have oral or pharyngeal cancer associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.3-7)

Risk Factors
•Tobacco use8,9
•Alcohol consumption9,10
•Heavy use of tobacco and alcohol together greatly increases the risk of developing oral and pharyngeal cancer11,12
•HPV infection is associated with oropharyngeal cancer13,14
•Age: the risk greatly increases after 44 years2
•Gender: men are twice as likely to develop oral and pharyngeal cancer2
•Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure is a particular risk factor for lip cancer15
•Nutrition: a diet rich in vegetables and fruits is associated with a lower incidence of oral and pharyngeal cancer16

Signs and Symptoms
•Leukoplakia or erythroplakia
•A lump or thickening of the oral soft tissues, or swelling that affects the fit and comfort of dentures
•Patients may complain of: difficulty chewing or swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue; a sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat; numbness; hoarseness or a change in the voice.

Signs and symptoms that persist for two weeks or more merit further investigation, such as a biopsy or referral to a specialist.