According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 30,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States. More than 8,000 people die of the disease each year. While the five-year survival rate is near 50 percent, if not treated in its earliest stages, oral cancer can be deadly.
What is Oral Cancer?
Twenty-four people die daily of oral cancer in the U.S. and the Oral Cancer Foundation reports that cancer cases have been increasing over the past eight years. In one year, from 2006 to 2007, there was an 11 percent increase in oral cancer cases. The term oral cancer encompasses cancers of the:
- Salivary glands
- Larynx (voicebox)
- Pharynx (throat)
- Oropharynx (back of the mouth)
- Lymph nodes
What Causes Oral Cancer?
The major causes of oral cancer include:
- Tobacco use: Cigarette smoking, cigar smoking, and pipe smoking
- The human papilloma virus (HPV): The leading cause of orophayngeal cancers
- Chewing tobacco and snuff: Long term use of snuff and chewing tobacco increases the risk of cheek and gum cancers by 50 percent
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Symptoms of oral cancer often present as a sore on the lips, tongue, or in the mouth that won’t heal; a lump or thickening in the neck or of the oral tissue; white or red patches in the mouth, throat, and on or under the tongue. Other symptoms include:
- The feeling of something stuck in your throat
- Chronic hoarseness, sore, or scratchy throat
- Painful chewing and/or swallowing
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Sudden loose teeth
Diagnosis and Treatment
An oral cancer diagnosis is made via a biopsy. During a biopsy a tissue sample of the questionable site is taken and examined under a microscope. If the cells are cancerous a treatment regimen will be determined based on the type of cancer and the stage is has progressed to. Cancer treatments include removal of the cancerous tissue or tumor, chemotherapy, and radiation.