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According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, close to 49,750 Americans will be diagnosed with oral oropharyngeal cancer this year. It will cause over 9,750 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours per day. While smoking and tobacco use are still major risk factors, the fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients is young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals due to the connection to the HPV virus.
The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons states that an estimated 25 percent of oral cancer patients have no known risk factors. Alcohol and tobacco remain the greatest risk factors and using them in combination increases the risk 15 times over the use of one or the other. Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes – users face a 400 percent greater chance of oral cancer than non-users.
Additionally, the AAOMS notes that infection with the sexually transmitted HPV16 virus has been linked to a subset of oral cancers. Historically, oral cancer has been a disease of those ages 40+, but its incidence in those under 40 is climbing. The most dramatic increases were in throat cancer and tongue cancer, and the data show that claims were nearly three times as common in men as in women during that same period with a split of 74 percent to 26 percent.
While you may have no symptoms at all, you should see your oral and maxillofacial surgeon or dentist if you experience any of the following:
Performing a self-examination monthly increases the chance of identifying changes or new growths early. If you have risk factors, also see your oral and maxillofacial surgeon or dentist for an oral examination at least annually. The earlier the cancer is detected, the easier the treatment and the greater the chance of a cure.
Perform a self-exam monthly using a bright light and a mirror look for red and white patches, sores that fails to heal and bleeds easily, abnormal lumps or thickening of the tissues or a mass in the neck.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and The Community Cancer Center encourages you to follow the recommendations of the AAOMS and get screened annually to end oral cancer! When it comes to your health, your mouth is one of your body’s most important early warning systems. Don’t ignore any suspicious lumps or sores. If you discover something, make an appointment with your dentist for a prompt examination. Early treatment may be the key to complete recovery.