During the month of October, you see a lot of pink and you hear a lot about Breast Cancer. That is because October has been designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, that are two other types of cancer that are killing Americans: oral and pharyngeal cancer. In fact, according to statistics gathered and reported by the American Cancer Society, an estimated 37,000 people in the United States will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in 2014. This same year, an estimated 7,3000 will die of these cancers.
Oral cancer is a type of cancer that stars in the mouth. Oropharyngeal cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the back of the throat, just behind the mouth (oropharynx). These types of cancers occur most often in the tongue, tonsils and oropharynx, gums and mouth floor. They can also be found in the lips, salivary glands, and other sites in the mouth.
The strongest risk factors for oral and pharyngeal cancers are tobacco and alcohol use. The risk is particularly strong when these two risk factors are combined. Oropharyneal cancer is has also been linked to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which is spread during skin-to-skin sexual contact.
Like most other forms of cancers, early detection, diagnoses and treatment is the key to increasing the chances of a successful recovery. Since these types of cancers are particularly aggressive as compared to other types of cancers, early detection and treatment is even more important when dealing with oral and throat cancers.
Regular dental checkups that include an exam of the entire mouth are important in finding oral and oropharyngeal cancers (and pre-cancers) early. Along with a clinical exam of the mouth and throat, some dentists and doctors may use special dyes and/or lights to look for abnormal areas. These additional screening tests are often used on patients who are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer. If an abnormal area is spotted, some of these tests may also be used to help determine if they might be cancers (and therefore will need a biopsy) or to choose the best area to sample for a biopsy.
If you are at a high risk for developing oral or pharyngeal cancer and have not been screened, schedule an appointment with your doctor or dentist today. You can also talk to your dentist about lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your risk for developing one of these serious and life-threatening forms of cancer.