Medical Monday: Oral cancer: Symptoms, Prevention, Treatments

Dr. Steve Zent, with BayCare Clinic, joined us on Wisconsin Tonight to discuss oral cancer.
This is cancer that occurs anywhere in the mouth and throat. The most common sites are the tongue, floor of the mouth cheeks, lips and palate. A huge hurdle is that it is typically diagnosed very late and outcomes are tied to early versus late diagnosis. Because of new research, the old adage of oral cancer being a lifestyle illness, is changing. New research now has a strong association with a viral cause in many cases. Outcome is significantly ties to early detection.
How common is oral cancer and why is this important?
* Accounts for 3% of all cancer in the United States
* Is expected to see 49,750 newly diagnosed cases this year
* Will result in an estimated 9,750 deaths this year (one death each hour)
* Has an overall survival rate of about 57% (early detection rate is 80% and late detection as low as 26%)
* Generally affects those over age 40 (with men twice as likely to be diagnosed as women)
* Sees higher death rates than cervical cancer, Hodgkins Lymphoma, testicular cancer and thyroid cancer
What are the main risk factors for oral cancer?
* Tobacco use of any kind increases your risk of getting oral cancer
* Heavy alcohol use is also a significant risk factor. When combined with tobacco use, the risk is 15 times higher than one of these factors alone.
* HPV is the causative agent getting a lot of research attention
* Sun exposure in regards to cancer of the lips
* Age over 40, but this is now being seen in younger populations
* Diet
* One in four do not have any of the risk factors
What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
* A sore that doesn’t heal for two or more weeks
* Red or white patches
* Lump, bump or thickening of the tissue inside the mouth
* Unexplained bleeding or pain
* Unexplained change in the fit of dentures or change in bite alinment
* Difficulty swallowing or talking
This disease is not completely preventable but we can manage our risk. Don’t use tobacco products, drink alcohol in moderation and use sun screen lip protection. Eat a balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and lean meat (shown to correlate with a reduced risk).
Treatment depends on the stage at the time of diagnosis. The general modalities of treatment include a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These treatments are not without consequences and again, early diagnosis is the key.
Early detection has a survival rate close to 80% and the survival of late detection is as low as 26%. Regular visits to your dentist and oral surgeon for examinations are important for everyone. This is also true for patients without teeth.
For more information, visit or call 920-347-0400.
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