Oral Cancer Screening

Oral Cancer is more deadly than breast cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer. Over 35,000 new cases of oral and throat cancers are diagnosed in the United States each year. Oral cancer kills one person every hour of every day in the United States. Without proper detection methods, a person may have oral cancer and not even know it because the signs and symptoms of oral cancer are often missed by the naked eye. The disease is usually detected late in development, when the mortality rate is 50%. In almost all cases of oral cancer, early detection plays a major role in a patient’s chances of survival. Diagnosing and treating oral cancer early may increase a patient’s five year survival rate to 80-90%.


Risk factors for oral cancer include:

  • Frequent use of tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco)
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Genetics (a family history of oral cancer or any type of cancer)
  • Excessive exposure to the sun at a young age

Once associated only with heavy smokers or drinkers, oral cancer is being found in frightening rates in non-smokers and non-drinkers alike. While men above the age of 50 are typically at highest risk for oral cancer, there has been a recent increase in the number of women with oral cancer due to a connection between oral cancer and the human papilloma virus (HPV-16). Exposure to the HPV-16 virus (human papilloma virus) is the fastest growing risk factor for oral cancer. This is the same virus that is responsible for the majority of cervical cancers in women. The virus presents a 5x increase in occurrence of Oral Cancer under the age of 40, and it has been recommended that all patients over the age of 17 be screened annually.

An abnormal screening does not always mean that cancer is present. If an abnormal screening occurs, your doctor may schedule a second scan later to see if the dark spots disappear, or may choose to perform a gentle, non-invasive brush biopsy to send for additional laboratory testing in hopes of ruling cancer out.


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