Oral cancer can include cancer of the throat or any part of the mouth including the floor of the mouth, cheeks, lips and tongue. Oral cancer may also be referred to as head and neck cancer. Although it may not be as common as other type of cancer, it is not considered a rare cancer. Over 30,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with oral cancer each year, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Throughout the world over 600,000 people are diagnosed annually.
Smoking is the main risk factor for developing oral cancer. Using smokeless tobacco is also a risk factor. Although in the past men developed oral cancer at a much higher rate than women, the gap is closing. This may be due to the increased number of women using tobacco. Long term alcohol use also increases the risk of developing oral cancer. According to the National Institute of Health, becoming infected with human papilloma virus (HPV) is also considered a risk factor.
Symptoms of oral cancer often begin with a small growth, sore or patch in the mouth. It usually is not painful in the early stages. According to the Mayo Clinic, additional symptoms may include a persistent change in voice, sore throat, trouble swallowing and ear pain. The Oral Cancer Foundation recommends seeing a dentist for mouth sores which do not heal within 14 days.
Treatment will often depend on what stage the cancer is and how certain treatments will affect quality of life. Typically oral cancer is treated with surgery to remove the cancer. Depending on how large the cancerous area is and how much tissue has to be removed, reconstructive surgery may be needed. Radiation therapy is also standard treatment in many cases. Chemotherapy alone is not usually considered curative. Chemo may be given prior to surgery to reduce tumor size. It may also be used during radiation therapy to increase the radiations effectiveness.
If oral cancer is found and treated before it has spread, the prognosis is better. Although prognosis will depend on age, underlying health conditions and treatment chosen, the 5-year survival rate for those diagnosed early is about 80 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. That number drops to roughly 30 percent for those diagnosed late. Unfortunately, many people with oral cancer are diagnosed late. This may be due in part to a lack of education and screening by dentists and doctors.
Oral Cancer Foundation
National Institute of Health
American Cancer Society