April Is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month

added on: April 17, 2018

Americans, for the most part, are pretty disciplined when it comes to the need for early-detection screenings. Women understand the need to have periodic pap smears and mammograms. Men understand the need for regular prostrate checks. And, most all Americans understand the need to have colonoscopies, eye exams, bone density checks, and exams for signs of skin cancer.

What many adults don’t always have on their “health watch” list is screenings for Oral Cancer. Yet, Oral Cancer is one of the deadliest of all cancers, taking the life of one American every hour of every day.

One of the reasons that Pancreatic Cancer is so deadly is how its symptoms typically don’t become noticeable until at advanced stages. The same is true for Oral Cancer. By the time symptoms do emerge, it is often difficult to combat with treatment that is often disfiguring. Sadly, nearly half of those who develop Oral Cancer will not live past five years after diagnosis.

Those who develop Oral Cancer also have a high risk of developing a second round of tumors. According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, “This means that patients who survive a first encounter with the disease have up to a 20 times higher risk of developing a second cancer. This heightened risk factor can last for 5 to 10 years after the first occurrence.” (https://oralcancerfoundation.org/facts/)

As a dentist, what is especially concerning is the high percentage of American adults who fail to have annual dental exams, which include an oral cancer screening (in most dental offices). According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2014, a third of our population had not seen a dentist in over a year. (http://www.gallup.com/poll/168716/one-third-americans-haven-visited-dentist-past-year.aspx).

This leaves a large number of adults unchecked from year to year. Because catching Oral Cancer at its earliest stages is a key component in successfully treating it, this challenge will continue until more individuals are understand the value of preventive dentistry.

Those with the highest risk are adult males. Oral cancer risk increases with age, especially after age 50 with the greatest risk between ages 60 – 70. The highest rates have been noted with males between ages 50 – 59. Other risk factors (for all ages) includes tobacco and alcohol use.

A National Cancer Institute Survey shows a 15% increase in oral cancer rates over the past three decades. One reason for the spike is being blamed on rising Oral Cancer rates in younger age groups due to the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html)

April is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month and gives us an opportunity to boost awareness. First, we want people to become more familiar with the symptoms of Oral Cancer since early diagnosis and treatment can mean the difference between life and death:

 • A sore, bump or thick spot in the mouth, lip, or throat
 • White or reddish patch inside the mouth
 • Feeling something is stuck in the throat
 • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue
 • Ear pain without loss of hearing
 • Numbness in the tongue or other areas of the mouth

These symptoms don’t always indicate Oral Cancer. However, anything in the mouth that does not heal on its own within two weeks should be examined —  without delay! Too, if you have not had regular dental check-ups, call 586-739-2155 to schedule an examination.

In the meantime, learn more about Oral Cancer at the American Cancer Society’s web site:



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