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Oral Cancer Facts: Mortality Rate, Risk Factors, and Treatment

Oral cancer refers to a cancerous growth that occurs in the mouth, tongue, lips, and the back of the throat, esophagus and other soft tissues of the mouth. The most common type of oral cancer is squamous cell carcinomas contributing to around 90 percent of all cancer types. An estimated 48,250 Americans are diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer every year and a person dies from the disease every hour of the day. The problem is even greater from the global view with over 450,000 new cases being found each year. The disease can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.


According to a report by the Oral Cancer Foundation, the condition has an 80 to 90 percent survival rate if found within its early stage of development. Unfortunately, the majority of the cases are found in their late stages accounting for the high death rate of an average of 43 percent at five years from the time of diagnosis. Oral cancer is often diagnosed when it has metastasized to another location like the lymph nodes of the neck contributing to the high death incidences. The survival rate has however improved over the last decade due to the increase in HPV16 caused cancers which respond better to the existing treatment modalities.


Lifestyle Causes

Just as with many types of cancers, the risk of developing oral cancer depends on some factors and varies from one individual to another. A majority of the causes leading to oral cancer have been associated with lifestyle factors. This means that our lifestyle choices play a significant role in contracting the disease; hence, we can reduce the chances of developing oral cancer if we adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Here are some of the lifestyle risk factors that have been linked to the disease.


Tobacco Use

Tobacco use of any kind puts you at a risk of developing oral cancer. A single cigarette contains thousands of chemicals that when smoked transform the saliva in the mouth into a harmful substance that damages cells and can eventually turn them to be cancerous. Tobacco users are three times more likely to develop mouth cancer and seven times more likely to be diagnosed with throat cancer than non-smokers.


Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption is another risk associated with mouth cancer. Those using both tobacco and alcohol are at a greater risk and should make an attempt to visit a dentist to examine their mouths.


The Human papilloma virus

The human papilloma virus, particularly HPV16 has also been linked to oral cancer. There are about 200 strains of HPV, and most people will have a version of HPV in their lifetime. Certain strains of HPV can cause abnormal tissue growth inside the mouth triggering oral cancer, so it’s important for people to limit the number of partners as well as practice safe sex.



Poor diet can also increase the risk of mouth cancer. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will keep your body fit and healthy and reduce the chances of oral cancer development.



After a diagnosis has been made and cancer has been staged, treatment will begin. The conventional curative treatment modalities include chemotherapy with concurrent radiation, which is sometimes combined with surgery. The treatment option is unique to an individual and is dependent on the type, location and stage of development of cancer. It is also important for the underlying oral health issues to be addressed to decrease the likelihood of developing post-therapeutic complications.

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