Jul 24

Oral Cancer Symptoms and Treatment: Irregular Check-ups, Tobacco, Alcohol, and HPV Virus Leading Causes

An average of 34,0000 Americans get diagnosed with oral cancer yearly, according to the American Oral Cancer Foundation (AOCF). The number goes up to 41,000 if laryngeal cancer is included . Statistically, the survival rates are very poor due to the potential lack of symptoms and the late diagnosis. The Foundation also states that oral cancer currently has a high death rate and men tend to be more susceptible than women by a 2 to 1 margin. Death rates are higher for non-caucasians than whites .

Tobacco & Alcohol

Nearly ninety percent of most oral cancers is due to tobacco (AOCF). Throw in excessive alcohol use and the risk increases greatly. The majority of new oral cancers get diagnosed in the 45 or older group.

However, a new disturbing trend has appeared. More and more people under 40 years of age are being diagnosed with this problem. Analyses has shown that this is due to two new factors. Tobacco companies are touting more smokeless tobacco products than before, and to the younger generation. By placing the tobacco pouch between the lips and the gums, the sites get exposed to the tobacco byproducts for a longer period of time.

HPV Virus

A second cause of oral cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, involves the HPV virus 16 and 18 (the same two implicated in cervical cancer), have now become a factor with oral cancer in nonsmokers. The HPV virus tends to form changes in the epithelial cells of the mouth forming what’s known as tissue dysplasias.These can develop into squamous cell carcinomas if undetected. Add to this exposure to tobacco and alcohol and the chances of developing oral cancer increase considerably.

High Fiber

Eating a high fruit and fiber diet may provide some protection, but realistically giving up tobacco and alcohol are the main preventative measures that one can take to trully prevent these cancers from starting. High fat content in foods also has been a possible suspect with cancer rates, so a low fat diet is important as well.

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The detection phase starts with your general dentist. Cleaning and a checkups also include an oral cancer examination as well. In general, any lesion noticed in the mouth should be either biopsied or watched depending on what your dentist feels is appropriate. One thing is for sure: any lesion that lasts more than 4 days should be biopsied.

Biopsies can be done by brushes or could involve removal of a small piece or the entire lesion for study. A brush biopsy, performed by general dentists, removes the top cellular layer of tissue for analyses. If a negative result is achieved no further tests are needed. if a positive occurs then the incisional biopsy would be next to confirm atypical cellular structure.


Most oral cancers are of the squamous cell cancer rate. If this is seen then a possible CT scan and other tests will be necessary to see the extent of damage and the stage of the cancer. Oral cancers invade deeper structures and can easily mestastasize to other areas via the lymphatic system. This cancer is very prone to secondary tumor and cancer growth and as a result is very difficult to treat.

Current treatment modalities include chemotherapy, radiation and possible bony resection depending on how advanced the cancer has become. Obviously the more advanced the cancer the more potential there is for disfigurement and therefore prosthetic treatment. As a result, more and more treatment modalities are being tested raising new treatment possibilities for the future.

Proteins, Hormones & Drugs

Some of these exciting new areas inlude the introduction of proteins that speciafically hone the bodies own defenses to fight the cancer cells, hormonal drugs that help to control the cells’ mitotic activity, monoclonal antibodies that specifically target cancer cells, leaving the normal ones alone and photodynamic therapy which makes the cells sensitive to light and allows a laser to kill the cancerous lesions.

There are also some exciting drugs being tested to achieve the same objective. Adept or antibody directed enzyme pro-drug therapy is being tested to react with an enzyme that was placed earlier by a monoclonal antibody, that will destroy the cancer cell when contacting that enzyme. Another drug undergoing current testing is STI 571 is. It is designed to block the signals that the cancer cells send to stimulate cell division, thereby not allowing the cancer to spread.

New scanning is also being used such as the DNA Ploidy System in Fairfield. Digital analyses of the nuclei with the cells, counts the number of DNA that each cell contains. Those that contain normal numbers are deemed to be a low cancer risk. Those with abnormal counts were at a much higher risk. Results have proven to be promising.

Of course the best defense is not to smoke, use smokeless tobacco or to drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Schedule regular checkups with your dentist and keep them. The earlier a diagnosis is made the better the survival rates. Now truly one can say that a visit to your general dentist can save your life!