Oral cancer is on the rise with over 450,000 cases diagnosed worldwide annually and about 48,250 cases of those are diagnosed in the United States. Approximately 9,850 people die from oral cancer per year in the United States. Out of the 48,250 cases diagnosed slightly over half will be alive in 5 years.
In the past oral cancer was more a disease of those whom smoked and drank alcohol. When you combine tobacco use with heavy alcohol use the incidence of oral cancer increases 15 fold. It is also now confirmed that in a younger age group, including those who have never used any tobacco products, have a new cause which is HPV16 viral based (HPV is a sexually transmitted disease). In about 1% of those infected with the HPV16 virus will have a lack of immune response to the virus which can cause cervical as well as oral cancer.
As always we strive to be on the cutting edge of new advancements in dentistry. We have recently incorporated the use of Velscope into our practice for early detection of oral cancer. Although Velscope doesn’t tell us if a lesion is cancerous or not, it does show changes in the tissue via fluorescence which will allow us to make referrals for further evaluation. In fact, when discovered early, the five year survival rate for oral cancer patients is about 83 percent, significantly improved from the five-year survival rate of around 50%. Catching oral cancer at this early stage is life-saving before it has a chance to invade deeper into the oral tissue or metastasize to other organs. When discovered early, the treatment outcomes for patients with oral cancer are statistically favorable. However, oral cancer is rarely discovered during the early stages when the cellular level changes are essentially invisible to the naked eye.
As always prevention is the key. At any given moment we all have cancer cells that our immune system scavenges and gets rid of. However, in the presence of a weak immune system, the toxic environment we live in, and the poisoned food we eat, cancer cells can get the upper hand. A clean organic diet (preferably mostly plant based or organic grass fed meat) along with proper exercise and screening exams will help eradicate this epidemic we call cancer.