As our awareness for cancer prevention grows, oral cancer remains a surprising top killer in the United States. Oral cancer kills someone every hour, of every day in the United States. The importance of a routine examination by an experienced dental professional or oral surgeon can make the difference between a cyst that can easily be removed, to facial disfigurement, or loss of life. Of the people newly diagnosed with these cancers, less than 60% will live more than 5 years. The death rate associated with oral and pharyngeal cancers remains extremely high due to the late discovery of the cancer which may already be well into the development stage. We asked Dr. Charlotte Marvil, from Apex Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in Charleston SC, what the most difficult part of treating oral and pharyngeal cancer is. She stated, “Knowing the shear treatability of the cancer had it been discovered early.” Dr. Marvil stressed routine screenings and biopsy testing by an experienced oral surgeon can help break this terrible cycle.
Dr. Marvil goes on to explain there are two distinct pathways by which most people develop oral cancer. One is through the use of tobacco and alcohol, a long term historic problem and cause, and the other is through exposure to the HPV-16 virus (human papilloma virus version 16), a newly identified etiology, and the same one which is responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers in women. The Oral Cancer Foundation goes on the explain a small percentage of people (under 7 %) will get oral cancer from no identified cause. It is currently believed that these are likely related to some genetic predisposition.
Dr. Marvil began her career in oral surgery as a Resident at the Baltimore VA hospital where far too often late diagnosis was a death sentence. Late stage diagnosis is simply a lack of public awareness coupled with the lack of a national program for screenings which would yield early discovery by medical and dental professionals. Worldwide the problem is far greater, with new cases annually exceeding 640,000.
The message is do not wait. Ask your dental professional to screen for oral cancer or make an appointment today with an oral surgeon for a quick and easy screening that just may save your life.