There's good news: the incidence rate of oral melanoma has remained stable for more than 25 years.
And there's bad news: the cause of oral melanoma remains unknown.
All melanomas arise from pigment-making cells called melanocytes. Since 1973, the incidence rates for skin melanomas - a serious form of cancer - have more than doubled in the United States. Also called cutaneous melanomas, they are usually linked directly to fair-skinned and blue-eyed people with a history of blistering sunburns.
In contrast to melanomas that appear on the skin and other oral cancers, risk factors for oral melanomas have no apparent relationship to outside factors. Sun exposures and other potential irritants, such as dentures, oral appliances, poor oral hygiene, alcohol and smoking aren't proven risk factors.
Males are more commonly diagnosed than females, by a ratio of almost 2:1. Also, people older than 40 years are much more likely to contract oral melanoma than those under 20 years.
Cancer specialists report oral melanomas are aggressive and spread rapidly to other organs of the body. Often overlooked or clinically misinterpreted as benign until they are well advanced, the median survival rate for people diagnosed with oral melanoma is less than two years.
Cancer experts agree that early recognition and treatment greatly improves the prognosis. Dentists perform thorough examinations to recognize and treat oral disease. They have the skills and tools to ensure that cancer and precancerous conditions are identified. Regular oral cancer screenings by a dentist just may save your life.