Oral cancer screening saves lives | PostIndependent.com

Oral cancer screening saves lives

April is Oral Cancer Awareness month and the office of James C. Setterberg, DDS. invites you to join us in the national screening campaign to end oral cancer. Oral Cancer awareness in the American public is low and we hope this article will help create more awareness with our area’s residents. Dentists are often the first line of defense against oral cancer, through the process of early discovery, our office will be providing free oral cancer screenings during April by appointment.

Oral cancer is deadly and strangely silent in our society.

The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cancers we hear about routinely such as cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, and endocrine system cancers such as thyroid, or skin cancer (malignant melanoma). Close to 43,250 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. The five-year mortality rate of oral cancer is higher than cervical cancer and prostate cancer, and kills one person every hour of every day.

Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because in its early stages it is typically asymptomatic and goes undetected by the patient. It also has a high risk of producing second, primary tumors. This means that the patients who survive a first encounter with the disease have up to a 20 times higher risk of developing a second cancer. This heightened risk factor can last for 5 to 10 years after the first occurrence. There are several types of oral cancers, but around 90 percent are squamous cell carcinomas.

Here’s why you should say yes to your dentist for an oral cancer screening at your next appointment with enthusiasm:

Historically the death rate associated with oral cancer is particularly high not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development. The good news is that your physician or dentist can, in many cases, see or feel the precursor tissue changes, or the actual cancer while it is still very small, or in its earliest stages.

The American Dental Association recommends that dental patients 17 and older be screened annually for oral cancer. A handful of dental insurances are currently paying for this preventative service; in any case, the fee is nominal and patients should consider it to be a small investment with potential for a large payback in the event that oral cancer is diagnosed in an early stage.

In addition to manual and visual examination, an oral cancer screening is done in our office using a multispectral wavelength oral detection system that can detect morphological and biochemical changes in the mouth that may lead to oral cancer and potentially save lives.

Early Detection SAVES LIVES

When found early, oral cancer patients have an 80 to 90 percent survival rate. Unfortunately, 40 percent of those diagnosed with oral cancer will die within five years because the majority of these cases will be discovered as a late stage malignancy. Oral cancer in its early stages can develop and grow without producing pain or symptoms. As a result, oral cancer often goes undetected until it has already involved the local lymph nodes or metastasized to another location.


The most recognized and acknowledged risk factors are the use of tobacco (including smokeless) and alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol are essentially chemical factors, but they can also be considered lifestyle factors, since we have some control over them. Besides these, there are physical factors such as exposure to ultraviolet radiation. It may take several decades of smoking to precipitate the development of a cancer. Having said that, tobacco use in all forms is No. 1 on the list of risk factors in individuals over 50. Historically, at least 75 percent of those diagnosed at 50 and older have been tobacco users. When you combine tobacco with heavy use of alcohol, your risk is significantly increased, as the two act synergistically. Those who both smoke and drink have a 15 times greater risk of developing oral cancer than others.


Exposure to the HPV16 and 18 viruses (human papilloma virus transmitted sexually) is the fastest-growing risk factor for oral cancer. This is the same virus that is responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers in women. The virus presents a five-fold increase in incidence under the age of 40, which means all patients older than 17 should be screened annually.

Why age 17? According to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices: “By 15 years of age, about 25 percent of American young people have become sexually active and are at risk to HPV exposure.” As uncomfortable as it is to say it, oral sex is a likely culprit for contracting the HPV viruses. We cannot stop this virus from spreading; our only hope to save lives is with professional involvement and public awareness.

It does not appear that the HPV16 virus acts synergistically with tobacco or alcohol, but the HPV16 represents a unique and independent disease process. The cancers in the anterior or front areas of the mouth more commonly associated with tobacco and alcohol use are declining in correspondence with a decline in tobacco use. However, cancers in the rear portion of the oral cavity associated with HPV16 virus are increasing.


• Oral Cancer frequently has no symptoms; however, when symptoms do occur, the most common include:

• A sore, lump or ulcer, discolored area on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal within 14 days.

• A lump on the lip, in the mouth or in the neck.

• A white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth.

• Unusual bleeding, pain or numbness in the mouth.

• Oral pain that does not go away or a feeling that something is caught in the throat.

• Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing.

• Difficulty with jaw opening.

• Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.

• Sensory loss in the face.

• Abnormal taste in the mouth.

• Tongue problems.

See more at: http://tinyurl.com/oralcancerinfo

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