Oral cancer kills 8,400 people per year in the United States, more than skin cancer and cervical cancer. Each year 28,000 new cases are diagnosed. Oral cancer occurs more often in people who use tobacco in any form such as: cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipes, and cigars. It occurs more frequently in people who consume large quatities of alcohol especially liquor. It can occur in all ages, races, and lifestyles. Over 25% of oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and only drink alcohol socially.
The overall survival rate of oral cancer is 52%. This survival rate has not improved in 50 years. Almost every other cancer has had significant improvements in survival rates. Early detection plays a much greater role in these improvements rather than advances in treatment The following yearly tests have greatly improved the survival rates of the following cancers: the mammogram for breast cancer, the PSA for prostate cancer, the PAP smear for cervical cancer and the colonosopy for colon cancer. When a dentist diagnoses cancer, the patient is on average 64 years old and the cancer is in Stage III. If the cancer was diagnosed in Stage I, the 5-year survival rate is increased to 79%.
There are several factors that make early detection difficult. The lesions can take on many different forms. It may be small, flat, a red or white patch, a growth, a lump, a thickening, a rough spot, crusted, or an irritated area. They are often painless. Many lesions are in areas of the mouth that are difficult to see, requiring examination by a dentist or dental hygienists. Until recently, suspicious lesions required a surgical biopsy for diagnosis. The logistics involved and the nature of the procedure cause the patient as well as the dentist to delay the procedure.
Fortunately, Delmarva Dental Services uses a new test that is similar to a PAP smear. It is simple to perform. We just brush the surface of the suspected area several times and send the specimen to the laboratory. The lab sends the results in a few days. Areas that test positive can be surgically biopsied or totally removed. Areas that test normal have avoided the more complicated surgical biopsy and the patient can feel reassured. The simplicity of the new test should allow oral cancer survival rates to improve provided people come to the dentist for their checkups. This includes denture patients as well because it’s not just about teeth, but your life.