Survival Rates for Oral Cancer Skyrocket if Diagnosis Occurs Early

Each year, over 500,000 new cases of oral cancer occur each year. In the United States alone, close to 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or throat cancers.These numbers are alarming, as are the rate at which they grow each and every year. Although the World Health Association says that 40 percent of these diagnoses will end in death within five years, early detection increases the odds of survival to almost 90 percent.

The enormous spike in hope that comes with early diagnosis should mean that everyone is being screened at least once a year by medical professionals, shouldn’t it? Unfortunately, a recent survey by Vigilant Biosciences has discovered that even though 81 percent of adults would like to be screened at each dental check-up, only 29 percent are reporting that they’re being screened.

Oral surgeon Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS, MS, of Pinnacle Oral Surgery Specialists in Rockwall, Texas, says that patients should request a screening if they aren’t being automatically offered one.

“Sometimes patients are screened by their dentists without realizing it,” Pollock said. “Many of the steps in the oral cancer screening process are similar to a routine exam. It’s always best to have open communication between the patient and dental professional as patient education should be an important part of every visit.”

Patient education is something that the survey shows Americans are craving. Seventy-seven percent of adults surveyed said they wanted to know more about how to reduce their risk for oral cancer along with information on screening and testing tools.  

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, a comprehensive oral cancer screening can take place in less than five minutes. It involves a thorough visual exam and manual palpation of the face, neck, mouth and tongue. Patient history also plays a large role in helping determine each patient’s risk factors for oral cancer.

In the past, tobacco use was one of the biggest risk factors but in recent years the sexually transmitted disease human papillomavirus, or HPV, has become one of the most concerning risk factors for oral cancer, especially oropharyngeal cancer. The survey discovered that 59 percent of adults weren’t even aware that HPV was a risk factor for oral cancer.

According to the CDC, an estimated 80 percent of Americans will be infected with HPV in their lifetime. Since it typically produces no noticeable symptoms, most of these infections will clear up without the patient being aware but can easily be spread to others without awareness.

The month of April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. It’s important to talk to your dentist about how you can help lower your risk for developing high-risk factors for oral related cancers.

“Any changes in the mouth that don’t go away within two weeks should be looked at by a professional,” Pollock said. “It’s always better to be on the safe side and get something looked at, then put it off and risk it becoming more serious. Especially because the success rates for treatment are astronomically higher when diagnosis occurs early in the process.”