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Oral Cancer

Close to 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. It will cause over 8,000 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour. Of those 42,000 newly diagnosed individuals, only slighlty more than half will be alive in 5 years. (Approximately 57%) This is a number whick has not significanly improved in decades. The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cancers which we hear about routinely such asa cervical cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes and endocrine system cancers such as thyroid, or skin cancer. If you expand the definition of oral cancers to include cancer of the larynx, for which the risk factors are the same, the numbers of diagnosed cases grow to approximatley 54,000 individuals, and 13,500 deaths per year in the U.S. alone. Worldwide the problem is much greater, with over 640,000 new cases being found each year. Statistics on worldwide occurrence Oral cancers are part of a group of cancers commonly referred to as head and neck cancers, and of all head and neck cancers they comprise about 85% of that category. Brain cancer is a cancer category unto itself, and not included in the head and neck cancer group.

Historcally the death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high not because it is har to discover or diagnose, but due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development. Today, (2013) that statment is still true, as there is not a comprehensive program in the U.S. to opportunistically screen for the disease, and without that; late stage discovery is more common. Another obstacle to early discovery (and resulting in better outcomes) is the advent of a virus, HPV16, contributing more to the incidence rate of oral cancers, partularly in the posterior part of the mouth (the oropharynx, the tonsils, the base of tongue areas) whick many times does not produce visible lesions or discolorations that have historically been early warning signs of the disease process.

Ofter oral cancer is only discovered when the cancer has metastasized to another location, most likley the lymph nodes of the neck. Prognosis at this stage of discovery is significantly worse that when it is caught in a localized intra oral area. Besides the metastasis, at these later stages, the primary tumor has had time to invade deep into local structors. Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because in its early stages it may not be noticed by the patient, as it can freqently prosper withour producing pain or symptoms they might readily reconize, and because it has a high risk of producing second, primary tumors. This means that patients who survive a first encounter with the disease, have up to 20 times higher risk of developing a second cancer. This heightened risk factor can last for 5 to 10 years after the first occurrence. There are several types of oral cancers, but around 90% are sqamous cell carinomas. It is estimated that approximately $3.2 billion is spent in the United States each year on treatment of head and neck cancers

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