It is a disease that we give very little thought to, but oral cancer continues to be prevalent with approximately 42,000 Americans being diagnosed with oral cancer or oral pharyngeal cancer this year. It will cause over 8,000 deaths, killing roughly 1 person every hour. Of those 42,000 newly diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years (Approximately 57%). This is a number which has not significantly improved in decades. Increasing oral cancer screenings can decrease the mortality rates from oral cancer. Early Detection is the key to better treatment, better outcomes and higher survival rates.
With early detection and timely treatment, deaths from oral cancer could be dramatically reduced. The 5-year survival rate for those with localized disease at diagnosis is 83 percent compared with only 32 percent for those whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It is important to open this discussion with patients and even if it’s not causing any pain, any discoloration, swelling, spots, ulcers or lumps that have been there for longer than two weeks should be checked out more thoroughly.
Oral cancer does not discriminate and an oral or oropharyngeal cancer can appear anywhere throughout the oral cavity, including the lips, the lining of the mouth, both under and on top of the tongue, in the back of the throat, tonsils, roof of the mouth and also within the gums, including the area behind the wisdom teeth. Regular screening and thorough documentation performs a key role in the early stages of detection and diagnosis.
The death rate from this type of cancer is high because it is often discovered late in its development, generally when it has spread to another location like the lymph nodes of the neck. At this stage the prognosis can be significantly worse. The good news is oral cancer can be readily diagnosed. In many cases cancer screening can be invasive, but unlike other forms of cancer, the oral cancer screening process is much easier and less invasive. With a comprehensive COE and good documentation it is easy to be diligent about any “area of concern” in the oral cavity.
The healthcare professional best positioned to screen for oral disease and cancer, are dentists and/or dental hygienists. Incorporating the COE into the routine dental visit seems to be the most effective way to tackle the early detection of oral disease and oral cancer. Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants, Primary Care or Family Physicians, Urgent Care Physicians, Otolaryngologists (ENT), Head and Neck Surgeon and Gastroenterologists are also professionals engaging in the fight against oral cancer. Make the COE discussion part of the patient relationship, it’s a great way to show that we as health care professionals truly care about our patients.
 National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research ‘Detecting Oral Cancer: A Guide for Health Care Professionals’, (nidcr.nih.gov, Bethesda, MD), http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/topics/oralcancer/detectingoralcancer.htm
Dr. John Roberson is a committed professional when it comes to early detection of oral mucosal disease and oral cancer. He is an award winning Board Certified Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon, and also has Board Certification from the National Dental Board of Anesthesiology. He is a member of the American Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons, American College of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons, American Dental Association, Mississippi Dental Association, and the South Mississippi Dental Association. Learn more about his practice and dedication at www.drjohnroberson.com