Every professional organization that has an interest in oral health have banded together to make the month of April a time to focus on Oral and Pharyngeal Cancers.

Each year about 45,000 Americans are told that they have oral cancers, those that occur in the mouth or pharyngeal cancer which grows in the back of the throat and pharynx. These cancers are usually spotted by your Dentist or Dental Hygienist. The frustrating part of oral cancer diagnosis is that they are generally caught late in the disease development and 43% of the diagnosed patients will die within 5 years.

Roughly 8000 Americans die each year of oral cancers, a number that can be lessened by early diagnosis and treatment along with steps toward prevention that we can each take to drop our chances of contracting oral cancers.

Early detection is generally in a Dentist’s Office, but there are signs that you may notice:

  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing, or difficulty moving your jaw or tongue
  • Numbness of the tongue or other areas in your mouth
  • Pain in only one ear, unaccompanied by hearing loss
  • A sore, lump or other irritation in your mouth, on your lip, or in your throat
  • A white or red spot in your mouth, especially on the mucosal membrane (inside cheek)

Treatment for these cancers will involve a team of clinicians including an oncologist, surgeon, nutritionist and others. The course of therapy will be one of two general paths:

  • surgery – radiation – more surgery
  • radiation – surgery – chemotherapy

The causes of Oral and Pharyngeal cancers give clues about how to prevent them for happening.

  1. The most common cause of Pharyngeal Cancer is HPV 16 – (Human Papilloma Virus 16)
  2. Tobacco use – smoked or smokeless tobacco causes throat, mouth, esophagus
  3. Alcohol – especially combined with tobacco has a higher link to oral cancers
  4. Diet – people who eat fewer fruits and veggies have a higher incidence of oral cancers
  5. Sun – cancers found on the lip are caused by sun exposure
  6. Age – there is little you can do besides manage your other risk factors, but oral cancers occur most often after age 40.

The guidance for lowering your risk of developing these cancers are tied to the risk factors:

  • Vaccinations for all teensĀ and adults for HPV up to age 45
  • Eliminate tobacco
  • Don’t consume alcohol with tobacco
  • Increase your veggies and fruits in your diet
  • Use 15 SPF or higher lip balm
  • Brush and Floss OFTEN
  • See your Dentist twice a year – and more often if you sense problems