June is Oral Health Month. This brings to mind one of the important functions of regular dental visits, oral cancer screening.
The standard of care requires dentists to perform a complete examination of the mouth and tongue to look for signs of oral cancer. Otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat/ENT physicians) may also perform this type of exam when consulted.
According to the American Cancer Society, oral cancer is most common in the tongue, tonsils, throat (oropharynx), floor of the mouth, and other parts of the mouth. It can affect people of all ages, although the average age for a patient diagnosed with oral cancer is 63. Around 20% of cases are diagnosed in patients younger than 55.
One of the keys for oral cancer survival is early diagnosis. Patients bear the responsibility of seeing a dentist twice a year for cleanings and checkups, and to seek an examination if a suspicious area develops in the mouth. Then the responsibility falls on the dentist, or ENT physician if consulted, to perform a thorough oral cancer screening examination.
Signs and symptoms of oral cancer
You should see a dentist or ENT physician for evaluation if you notice any of the following symptoms:
• A sore or lesion on the lip or inside the mouth that doesn’t go away. It could be on the roof of the mouth, under the tongue, or on the cheeks.
• A lump or growth on the tongue or inside of the mouth.
• White or red patches inside the mouth.
• Persistent pain in the ear or mouth.
• Swallowing issues, including pain or difficulty.
• Loose teeth.
Survival rates for oral cancer
Oral cancer survival rates are good if it’s caught quickly.
Oncology experts frequently cite five-year relative survival rates for different types of cancer. Survival rates vary, depending on how quickly the cancer was diagnosed and treated:
• Localized cancer: Has not spread from the primary tumor site
• Regional cancer: The cancer spread to nearby lymph nodes, organs, or tissue
• Distant cancer: Metastasized and spread to distant lymph nodes, organs, or tissue
For lip cancer, the five-year survival rate for localized cancer is 93%, but for distant cancer is only 33%. For tongue cancer, the statistics are similar, 83% versus 41%. For floor the mouth, the statistics are 73% five-year survival rate for localized cancer versus 23% for distant cancer. For oropharynx (throat) cancer, the numbers are 59% versus 28%. For each type of cancer, regional survival rates are in between the numbers for localized and distant.
When a dentist or physician fails to perform a proper oral cancer screening examination, it may be malpractice and can lead to a dangerous delay in diagnosis and treatment.
If you have been seriously injured because of oral cancer misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis in Texas, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical/dental malpractice lawyer for a free consultation about your potential case.