Close to 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year with oral or oropharyngeal (throat) cancer. These cancers kill roughly 1 person every hour, 24 hours a day. Of those, only 57% are estimated to be living 5 years from now. The death rate for oral cancer is one of the worst of all cancers. It is higher than cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, thyroid cancer, or skin cancer (malignant melanoma).
Although new case rates have declined slightly over the past few decades, a recent rise has been seen in throat cancers related to HPV (human papilloma virus) in white males under age 50. The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62, but about a third now occur in patients younger than 55.
Unfortunately, some symptoms do not emerge until the cancer has reached an advanced stage, or symptoms can mimic something that appears normal, like a bite on the inside of your cheek. The most common symptoms are:
• white or red patch of tissue
• lesion in the mouth
• a lump or mass inside the mouth or neck
• difficulty or discomfort when swallowing
• persistent sore throat
• any wart-like masses
• numbness in the oral/facial region
Lesions or discolorations that are early warning signs are not always visible, particularly in the back portion of the mouth (including tonsils and base of tongue), which can be an obstacle to early diagnosis and treatment. This is yet another reason that keeping your regular oral hygiene exam and cleanings is so important. During these times, we look for unusual changes in the mouth that can indicate a problem.
However, you should never wait until your scheduled appointment to have anything unusual examined. In our office, we use the Velscope screening process that helps locate cancerous signs at early stages. Call 1-855-9-Smiles immediately for an appointment if you feel you have an area that needs to be checked.