When someone is given a cancer diagnosis, the first question they may ask is "What is my prognosis?" In other words, what are the chances of recovery? Although an oral cancer diagnosis used to be bleak, the oral cancer survival rate is now improving due to a number of factors. If you or a loved has been diagnosed with oral cancer, here are some points to take into consideration that may brighten your outlook.
What Determines a Prognosis?
While there are lots of statistics about oral cancer survival rates, the American Cancer Society says these numbers are based on previous outcomes for large groups of people who have been treated at least five years ago. However, many people survive longer than five years. With so many variables affecting a person's recovery, this data can't predict what will happen in an individual's specific case. The good news is that the future for people diagnosed with oral cancer today has improved considerably with advances in treatment.
The doctor most familiar with you and your case is the best person to discuss your prognosis with. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, before making predictions, doctors will take the following into consideration:
- Your age
- Your overall health
- The type, location and stage of the cancer
- How likely the cancer is to grow or spread
- Your decisions regarding treatment
- How well your cancer responds to the current treatment
Facts About Oral Cancer
Here's a summary of the latest oral cancer facts and estimates published by the American Cancer Society in 2018:
- The death rate for oral cancer has been declining over the past 30 years.
- Approximately 51,540 people will get oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year.
- Men are more than twice as likely to get oral cancer. Race isn't a factor.
- These cancers usually occur on the tongue, tonsils and oropharynx, as well as on the gums and other parts of the mouth. Less common sites are the lips, floor of the mouth and the salivary glands.
- The average age when most people are diagnosed is 62, but more than a quarter of cancers occur in people under age 55.
- Oral cancer survivors may develop another cancer years later in the mouth, throat, lung or another nearby area, making follow-up exams necessary for the rest of their lives.
- Survivors should avoid alcohol and tobacco to decrease their risk for recurring cancers.
Improving Your Prognosis
Dentists and doctors can't stress enough to their patients the importance of regular oral cancer screenings. Screenings are usually conducted by your dentist at your regular appointments. A simple examination of your oral cavity, tongue, lips, neck and jaw area can be a life-saver since the earlier oral cancer is detected and treated, the better the chances of a positive outcome.
You can also help prevent problems by always seeing your dentist at the first sign of any unusual lumps in your mouth. You should also seek help for red or white patches that don't go away, the feeling of something stuck in your throat or any numbness in your tongue or other oral area.
Know Your Risks
Believe it or not, oral cancer is one of the easiest cancers to prevent if you know the risks. This disease, often called a lifestyle disease, is primarily linked to using tobacco products and drinking alcohol. So if you smoke a pipe, cigarettes or cigars, or chew tobacco and tend to drink heavily, you might want to think about changing these habits — especially if you are a man older than 40.
An uptick in oropharyngeal cancer has been associated with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) that can affect men and women at an earlier age, explains the Chicago Tribune. HPV is also linked to cervical cancer and can be easily prevented in adolescence with a course of vaccines.
Prevention of oral and oropharyngeal cancers will likely continue to reduce the number of yearly cases diagnosed. If you know your risk factors, early detection and timely treatment will significantly improve your oral cancer survival rate. Starting now with regular screenings and lifestyle modifications may improve a prognosis and lead to a cancer-free future.