It’s not just for smokers anymore.
If you use tobacco products of any kind you are at an increased risk of oral cancer and should be screened regularly, at least once a year, for the disease. But what if you don’t smoke or chew snuff? Does that mean you’re safe?
More than 48,000 people are diagnosed with oral, head and neck cancers each year and one in four have no risk factors at all. Nearly 10,000 people a year die from the disease. Even if you manage to survive oral cancer (the 5-year survival rate is less than 60%), you may be left with major facial disfigurement, impaired ability to speak, swallow, chew or even breathe properly.
After tobacco use, heavy drinking is the second leading cause of oral cancer. In fact, 75% of all diagnoses stem from these two risk factors. With tobacco use declining steadily over the past decade, you would assume oral cancer diagnoses should be declining as well. You’d be wrong.
Younger Diagnosis on the Rise
In the past, most oral cancer diagnoses were among the over 50 population,
but more recently, oral, head and neck cancers are being detected in younger, non-smokers in their 30’s or even 20’s. They are outpacing the decline of the smoking population. Why is this? The prevalance of HPV, the human papilloma virus,
is the cause. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Because it’s possible to not have signs or symptoms of it for years, a person may never know exactly when they were exposed, so may be at risk for oral cancer without even knowing it.
What You Can Do
Oral cancer can be cured if caught early. Signs and symptoms may not be recognized or reported to a doctor until the late stages of the disease and studies conclude that survival correlates with the stage at diagnosis. Oral cancer screenings by your dentist or doctor give you the best chance to catch the disease early. Screenings are typically painless, non-invasive and may save your life. Ask us about getting an oral cancer screening and give yourself peace of mind.