Although oral cancer doesn’t get as much attention as other forms of the disease, there are important facts you should know.

Regular visits to the Dental Center of Redondo Beach are important not only to keep your teeth healthy and looking great, but also because Dr. Alen Gharibian checks for symptoms of oral cancer. Although oral cancer doesn’t get as much attention as other forms of the disease, there are important facts you should know.

Oral cancer occurs in the mouth or the throat

There are two categories of oral cancer. Squamous cell cancer can develop on the roof and floor of the mouth, the inner linings of the cheeks, the tongue and the lips. This form makes up 90% of oral cancer cases. The other type, oropharyngeal cancer, occurs in the base of the tongue and middle throat.

Roughly 70% of oral cancers are caused by human papillomaviruses (HPVs). There are more than 200 HPVs, and about 40 of them are spread through direct sexual contact through people’s skin and mucous membranes. Experts have identified about a dozen types of HPVs that they consider a high risk of causing cancer.

Almost 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year

Oral cancer accounts for nearly 3% of all cancers in the United States. Slightly more than half of the people who are diagnosed with oral cancer in 2018 will be alive in 2023, and though the survival rate has improved slightly in the last decade, its mortality rate is still higher than that of many other types of cancer.

One of the reasons the survival rate has improved is that about half of the cases of oral cancer diagnosed in the US are linked to a particular type of HPV — HPV16. Cancers caused by HPV16 tend to respond well to existing treatments, boosting the survival rate.

The earlier oral cancer is discovered, the better the chances of survival

One of the reasons the survival rate for oral cancer is lower than it is for several other types of cancer is that it often goes unnoticed until it has reached its later stages, when it is less responsive to treatment.

One of the most important reasons to have regular dental checkups is for oral cancer screenings.

You can limit your risk of getting oral cancer

At one time, experts thought the risk of getting oral cancer rose simply by aging. Now, however, more researchers think the cumulative damage of other factors leads to oral cancer. For example, a person who is 60 years old and has smoked for 40 years has a greater risk of developing oral cancer than a 60-year-old nonsmoker.

Tobacco use is the No. 1 risk factor for developing oral cancer, and the Oral Cancer Foundation notes that about 75% of people over age 50 who are diagnosed with oral cancer are tobacco users.

The combination of smoking and heavy alcohol use creates the greatest risk of oral cancer. A heavy drinker and tobacco user is 15 times more likely to develop oral cancer.

Finally, you can lower your risk by limiting your exposure to the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight. The only type of oral cancer that has declined in recent years is lip cancer, and it is likely because people are more aware of the damage the sun can do and are more willing to use sunscreen to protect against it.

Treating oral cancer with a team-based approach has the best outcomes

Once oral cancer is diagnosed, treatment can begin. The treatment team may include various experts, such as a:

  • Surgeon
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Chemotherapy oncologist
  • Dentist
  • Nutritionist
  • Rehabilitative/restorative specialist

After the cancer has been successfully treated, the patient is likely to need further oral care. Teeth may need to be extracted to avoid periodontal problems or other complications.