Oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth, tongue, tonsil, and throat. Approximately 48,000 people in the US will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2017. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, “For more than a decade there has been an increase in the rate of occurrence of oral and oropharyngeal cancers.”
What are the risks for getting oral cancer?
There are two pathways for the majority of people who are diagnosed with oral cancer. The overwhelmingly most common risk for this cancer comes from using tobacco. Smoking and chewing tobacco increases the risk of cancers of the mouth and throat, with smoking also being tied to lung cancer and heart disease. Alcohol consumption, particularly when coupled with tobacco use, also increases the risk of oral cancers.
The second pathway comes from the human papilloma virus or HPV. This virus is the same one which is responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers in women. It is important to keep in mind that 7% of patients are diagnosed with oral cancer with no known cause. In these cases, it is thought that there is some genetic predisposition in the individual.
Currently oral cancer has a 43% five-year survival rate. But this doesn’t have to be the case. With early detection, oral cancers have 80-90% survival rate. Even better, oral cancer screening is quick and painless.
Oral cancer screenings are done partially by feel. Dr. Matthews runs his fingers over your cheeks, lips and gums. But the inside of the mouth is quite lumpy and it’s possible to miss spots that aren’t yet cancerous. Because of this, Dr. Matthews uses an advanced VELscope. The VELscope shines a safe visible blue light. This light “excites” the oral tissue and causes it to fluoresce. If the fluorescence pattern is unusual, Dr. Matthews can further examine that spot and even take a biopsy if necessary.
Because this IS Oral Cancer Awareness Month, we are doing a FREE Oral Cancer Screening ($75 value) with a cleaning and exam. If you’ve never had an oral cancer screening, now is the time!