Oral cancer doesn’t get as much attention as lung cancer, colon cancer and other cancers that can lead to people requiring hospice care. It can be quite deadly to residents of Mt. Vernon and elsewhere, but if treated early also has a high success rate of recovery.
Because there isn’t a lot of familiarity about general oral cancers the team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care tries to learn about them in case we ever have clients who have these conditions.
This is because, in some cases, older people with various mouth cancers may have a different prognosis and survival rates than someone younger with these conditions.
According to the National Institutes of Health, there are about 53,000 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed each year, making it the sixth common.
This works out to be 132 new cases daily and one person dying hourly. But at the same time about 91,000 people are living with this cancer.
Oral cancer is generally defined as cancer of the jaw, throat, tongue, lips or soft tissue in the mouth area.
Each year, about 8,000 people die of these types of cancers. But at the same time, the NIH emphasizes that treatment and early detection can help significantly.
The five-year survival rate is as low as 20 percent for people whose cancer diagnosed later in the process. But oral cancer detected early has a 75 percent survival rate over five years.
But there’s a generally higher risk for seniors. The Journal of Clinical Ontology said the 75 percent figure is for all ages, but people over age 70 have a 55 percent survival rate after only two years.
The survival rate also doesn’t change significantly for seniors even if they undergo some of the more aggressive different treatment methods such as dissection/removal of cancerous or suspicious tissue.
Symptoms and risks
Some of the possible warning signs of oral cancer can be noticed by individuals, their health care provider or a dental health provider.
Symptoms can include
- Thicker tissue in the mouth that feels or looks a little different
- Irritation and soreness that doesn’t go away after two or three weeks
- Patches of red or white in the mouth or lips that are painful or numb
- Pain when talking or moving the tongue or jaw
- Unusual sensations when teeth come together.
Often, one or two of these areas might indicate the possibility of some other condition, but enough of them together may require a discussion about oral cancers.
The good news is that due to more awareness and experience with this type of cancer it’s easier to detect and treat.
In the past, a primary solution was to remove the cancerous areas even if it meant that someone was permanently disfigured or had problems talking, eating, drinking or swallowing.
However, there are now precise radiation techniques that can focus on specific areas of tissue.
As with many cancers, there aren’t a lot of obvious factors for what can trigger this one. However medical experts say quitting tobacco products can reduce the risk. Smoking cigarettes can inflame and irritate tissues, as can pipes or vape products. Even items where smoke isn’t inhaled like cigars or chewing tobacco can still touch the lips and gums.
Alcohol is another factor especially with chronic use.
These toxins can often create lesions in the soft tissue. In some cases, these are painful, other times they can be found to be pre-cancerous.
Other factors can include:
- Prolonged sun exposure
- Gender (men are more likely than women to be diagnosed)
- Poor oral health
- Poor diet/nutrition, such as deficiencies of Vitamin A, vegetables or fruits
- Race (African-American men have a higher rate)
Another possible contributor to oral cancer is the HPV virus, which is why non-smokers sometimes end up with oral cancers that are more often seen in smokers. However, there is an immunization for this type of virus.
Oral cancer resources
The Oral Cancer Foundation encourages people around the country to take part in a national screening during April. This will help overall awareness, increase collective knowledge of who has this cancer and hopefully reduce the overall death rate.
Plus since early detection is so vital the sooner you learn that you have cancer the sooner you can be treated and lower your risk of receiving it later.
The foundation has also organized Oral Cancer Awareness Month throughout April, an opportunity to learn more about the condition. Plus it’s an occasion for providers in local communities to spread the word about available treatments and local efforts to improve education and reduce risks.
Clinics, surgeons, specialists, and pharmacies are invited to offer oral cancer screenings to their community in April.
Providers who want to take part in this event or are interested in increasing the amount of materials and information in their office for patients and staff can contact the foundation.