One of the less common forms of cancer, oral cancer was diagnosed in about 35,300 Americans last year and caused the death of 7,600 people. Although oral cancer is one of the easiest to detect and diagnose, the five-year survival rate is only 59%, and more than 60% of cases are diagnosed in the late, incurable stages – which may be a result of people not regularly visiting their dentists or not asking to have visual exams, reports Laurie Tarkan of the New York Times.
The most effective way to screen for oral cancer is to carefully look for it. The dentist or dental hygienist should examine the cheeks, the gums, the floor of the mouth, the area behind the teeth, the palate and the tonsil area (pulling the tongue forward), and should feel the lymph nodes of the neck. Such visual exams are found to reduce mortality by 34% in a study done in India. Emerging on the market are alternative tests and devices that may be more sensitive than the traditional visual exams. However, no decisive study has been done to prove that the more expensive tests are necessarily better.
Dentists encourage patients to get a thorough visual exam every year, and they recommend it not only to the high-risk groups (smokers and heavy drinkers) but to every adult, because oral cancer has recently been linked to oral HPV, which is transmitted through oral sex.