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Oral Cancer – Part 1

4.12.16 in General

April is oral cancer awareness month, and so I would like to spend some time on this increasingly important topic. It is increasingly important because we are seeing an increase in the incidence of oral cancer, and it is happening to a younger population than before.

Let’s spend the next few weeks talking about what is happening, why, and what we can do.

There will be 48,250 new cases of oral cancer this year, in the United States of America. That is on the rise. Over 70% of these cases are discovered in patients with at least a history of exposure to tobacco, or alcohol, or both. That statistic is not new. We have always seen a strong correlation between tobacco and alcohol use, and forming oral cancer. However, the age of patients being diagnosed with oral cancer, that have tobacco and alcohol use in their histories, may be dropping. We are seeing younger people in this category than before, and this is felt due to an increase in the use of smokeless tobacco among youth and young adults.

But there is a new “monster” in town. The second most common oral cancer category is that of non-smokers, non-drinkers, who are developing oral cancer at a rate of 132 new cases per day in the USA. The common link in this group is being positive for the HPV-16 virus.

The Human Papilloma Virus, is the same virus known to cause cervical cancer in females, and is actually sexually transmitted. The incidence of this type of oral cancer is definitely on the increase, and younger age patients are being diagnosed. When found early, the survival rate approaches 80-90%. Yet, the overall mortality for this type of oral cancer is as high as 43% at 5 years.
This obviously means that early detection and diagnosis is not happening.

Still, the majority of oral cancer patients are above 40 years of age, but this number is dropping. The increase incidence in younger populations is felt due to the increase in HPV-16 transmission. There is a group of about 7% of cancers where there is no known correlating risk factors.

Oral cancer affects twice as many males as it does females, and more blacks than Caucasians.

There are some bright notes in cancer news though. The incidence of lip cancer has declined, and the survival rates of all oral cancers are much higher if the lesion is diagnosed earlier. Fortunately, dental and medical professionals are being better trained to be aware of unusual findings, and pursue explanations. I refer you to, theoralcancerfoundation.org., for more information. Next time we will talk about the specific locations and characteristic of oral cancers. So, stay tuned in, and keep smiling. Dr W.

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