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At Smiles Dental, we are concerned about your complete oral health. And while keeping your smile in tip-top shape is what we do, there is more to good oral health than teeth. One major concern is oral cancer. And since April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, we wanted to share some information about the disease.

Oral cancer is by far the most common in the head and neck group, being found in nearly 50,000 Americans every year. Sadly, it claims the lives of some 9,500 yearly, and its 5-year survival rate is less than 60%. The reason it is so deadly is not, as with some cancers, that it is hard to detect or diagnose, but rather that it is regularly discovered late in its development. Often, this is after it has metastasized to another area. When caught early, it is usually quite treatable.

Risk factors for oral cancer include, unsurprisingly, tobacco use. This includes smoking as well as smokefree options. Historically, three-quarters of those diagnosed over 50 have also used tobacco. Alcohol use adds significantly to this risk. The fastest-growing risk factor is the presence of HPV, or human papilloma virus. Those with no immune response to the HPV16 strain (about 1% of those infected) can develop oral and other cancers. Exposure to UV radiation from sunlight is also a common risk factor.

Oral cancer can often develop for long periods without causing symptoms, so it is important to get screened regularly. Early detection is a key to effective treatment. Getting screened could save your life. For more information about oral cancer, visit the Oral Cancer Foundation’s website, www.oralcancer.org.