Oral cancers are part of a group of cancers referred to as head and neck cancers. Although oral cancer isn’t usually the one you hear about on the news, over 48,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. Because this cancer is usually discovered late, often when the cancer has already spread to another location such as the lymph nodes of the neck, it has a particularly high death rate. The later the discovery, the worse the prognosis.
Facts You Should Be Aware Of
Fact #1: Although oral cancer begins in the mouth on the inner and outer lips, cheeks, gums, teeth, tongue, under the tongue, or hard palate, it can also develop in the oropharynx. This area is the beginning of the throat right behind your mouth and includes the very back of your tongue, the soft palate, tonsils, and the walls of the upper throat.
Fact #2: Of all head and neck cancers 85 percent are classified as oral/pharyngeal cancer.
Fact #3: Tobacco in all its forms, including chewing and spit tobacco, is the number one risk factor for those over the age of 50. Over the years, statistics have shown that 75 percent of those diagnosed at 50 or older have been tobacco users.
Fact #4: Alcohol plays a significant role as well. For people who both drink and smoke the risk of developing oral cancer is 15 times greater than those who don’t.
Fact #5: You should bring any of the following signs or symptoms to the attention of a professional immediately:
- Unilateral persistent ear ache
- A lump or mass in the mouth or neck
- Pain or difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking
- Any wart-like masses
- Extended hoarseness
- Numbness in the oral/facial region
- A sore that does not heal within 14 days