Oral cancer accounts for 2.9% of all diagnosed cases of cancer in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that 51,000 people across the country will develop oral cancer this year and that 10,000 fatalities are expected from the disease.
Oral cancer can occur anywhere in the orofacial complex but is most often found on the tongue, the tonsils, and oropharynx, the gums, floor of the mouth, lips, cheek lining or the hard palate. While the disease can affect anyone, men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer as women. Those, particularly at risk for oral cancer, are men over the age of 50 who are heavy smokers and frequently drink alcohol. Additional risk factors may include UV exposure from the sun or sunlamps, GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease), prior head and neck radiation treatment, exposure to certain chemicals and poor diet. While the death rate from oral cancer has been decreasing in the past several decades, thanks to early detection and advanced methods of treatment improving the outcomes of care, there has been a recent rise in the incidence of oropharyngeal cancer due to increased transmission of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV)
What are some of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer?
Oral and Maxillofacial surgeons are often referred patients from general dentists and other specialties for the evaluation and possible biopsy of suspicious intraoral, extraoral and radiographic lesions or tissue abnormalities. As one of the first steps in care, the oral and maxillofacial surgeon will review the patient’s medical and dental histories and ask if there have been any changes to his or her oral health or overall health. The oral and maxillofacial surgeon will then carefully check in and around the oral cavity as well as the head and neck area for any of the following signs or symptoms that may indicate the presence of a problem:
If a suspicious lesion, tissue abnormality or unusual symptoms are present, a biopsy and further diagnostic testing are performed. Early detection of oral cancer and timely treatment offer the most favorable outcomes of care.