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Oral Cancer

Who Gets Oral Cancer? continued...

It is important to note that over 25% of all oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and who only drink alcohol occasionally. In these people, viral infections may be the cause. The human papilloma virus (HPV) has been detected in up to 36% of patients with oral cancers. This is the same virus responsible for the majority of cases of cervical cancer. The presence of an oral infection with this virus greatly increases the risk of developing an oral cancer.

The presence, though, of the HPV virus in oral cancers indicates a better prognosis. This includes a lower risk of developing a second cancer and a lower risk of dying from other tobacco-related illnesses, such as heart disease or lung disease.

What Is the Outlook for People With Oral Cancer?

For oral cancer, the survival rates, by stage are as follows:

  • Stage I: 80%-85%
  • Stage II: 60%-75%
  • Stage III 35%-66%
  • Stage IV: 15%-30%.

The five- and 10-year survival rates for all stages are 56% and 41%, respectively.

How Is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?

As part of your routine dental exam, your dentist should conduct an oral cancer screening. More specifically, your dentist will feel for any lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, face, and oral cavity. When examining your mouth, your dentist should look for any sores or discolored tissue, as well as check for any signs and symptoms mentioned above.

If your dentist sees tissue looks suspicious, he or she may recommend a scalpel biopsy. This procedure usually requires local anesthesia and may be performed by your dentist or a specialist. These tests are necessary to detect oral cancer early, before it has had a chance to progress and spread.

How Is Oral Cancer Treated?

Oral cancer is usually treated with surgery alone or radiation alone in the early stages. In more advanced cases, a combination of surgery and radiation is the most common treatment. In the late stages of oral cancer, a combination of radiation with chemotherapy, with or without surgery, is usually used.

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