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Oral Cancer Awareness Month

Social: #OralCancerAwareness, #OralCancer

Twitter: @oralcancerfnd

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Oral and oropharyngeal cancers are the largest group of those cancers which fall into the head and neck cancer category. Common names for it include such things as mouth cancer, tongue cancer, tonsil cancer, and throat cancer. Approximately 53,000 people in the US will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2019. This includes those cancers that occur in the mouth itself, in the very back of the mouth known as the oropharynx, and on the exterior lip of the mouth. For more than a decade there has been an annual increase in the rate of occurrence of oral and oropharyngeal cancers. This is expected to continue as there is no national screening policy or protocol, and the risk factors for the disease continue to be relatively unchanged.

There are two distinct pathways by which most people come to oral and oropharyngeal 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 relatively new (since 1999) identified etiology, and the same one which is responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers in women. A small percentage of people (under about 10%) do get oral cancers from no currently identified cause. It is currently believed that these are likely related to some genetic predisposition or frailty, or a yet unidentified shared risk factor.

While some think this is a rare cancer, mouth cancers will be newly diagnosed in about 132 new individuals each day in the US alone, and a person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day. If you add the subcategory of laryngeal throat cancers, the rates of occurrence (about 12,000 additional new cases per year) and death are significantly higher. When found at early stages of development, oral cancers can have an 80 to 90 % survival rate. Unfortunately at this time, the majority are found as late stage cancers, and this accounts for the very high death rate of about 43% at five years from diagnosis (for all stages and etiologies combined at time of diagnosis), and high treatment-related morbidity in survivors. Late stage diagnosis is not occurring because most of these cancers are hard to discover, (though some like HPV origin disease have unique discovery issues), it is because of a lack of public awareness coupled with the lack of a national program for opportunistic screenings which would yield early discovery by medical and dental professionals. This data is for the US only. Different countries will have different incidence rates, death rates and dominant etiologies. The worldwide burden of oral cancers is an estimated 657,000 new cases of cancers of the oral cavity and oropharynx each year, and more than 330,000 deaths. (World Health Organization data). This data is likely conservative as actual reporting from all countries particularly in the third world, is often problematic to obtain, and many cases are not reported. 

The Oral Cancer Foundation 
The Bruce Paltrow Foundation
3419 Via Lido # 205
Newport Beach, CA 92663 
(949) 723-4400 
Materials available 
Contact: None designated

Source: 2019 National Health Observances, National Health Information Center, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC.