It is well known that oral cancer is strongly associated with tobacco and alcohol consumption; however, where it once contributed to more than 75% of newly diagnosed oral cancer cases, it is being challenged by a new viral origin of almost equal proportion, according to reporting from major cancer centers.
The medical and dental professional communities have been alerted to alarming new trends regarding oral cancer. It is suggested that the North American population is increasingly at risk for oral cancer due in part to extremely low awareness levels on risk factors, contributing lifestyle behaviors, and prevention. Where we once felt confident to be able to identify the segment of our patient population that may be at increased risk for oral cancer, changing demographics are creating a paradigm shift in our traditional oral cancer risk profiling. No longer can we classify the older male patient with a chronic history of tobacco and alcohol abuse as being the only one at increased risk for oral cancer. Oral cancers are occurring in young adults with no associated traditional risk factors at a rapidly increasing rate.
CURRENT ORAL CANCER STATISTICS
Oral cancer strikes more than 34,000 Americans each year. It will cause more than 8,000 deaths, killing roughly one person per hour, 24 hours per day.2 Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide, with an anticipated yearly incidence of more than 400,000 with the prevalence being particularly high among men. On average, only slightly more than half of those diagnosed with the disease will survive more than 5 years. The mortality rate for oral cancer is higher than many of cancers which we hear about routinely, such as cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, endocrine system, cancers such as thyroid, or the skin cancer referred to as malignant melanoma.2
Unfortunately, at this time, detection of oral cancer is occurring too late, with approximately 65% to 75% of oral cancer lesions not identified during a visual examination until stages III or IV. Oral cancer 5-year survival is poor, similar to colorectal cancer at 62% and significantly lower than for cervical cancer and breast cancer. Those who do survive have not emerged unscathed, having withstood the rigors and painful outcomes of radiation, chemotherapy, and disfiguring surgery. Oral cancer often goes undetected by the patient because in its early stages, it may be symptom-free.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer