Get screened early for oral cancer | Auburn's Dr. Rich

The month of April is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month. More than 35,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed in the United States annually, and more than 45 percent of those with the disease will not be alive in five years.

To put it another way, oral cancer kills one person every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the U.S.

You can avoid becoming a statistic for this deadly disease by abstaining from tobacco  and alcohol use, since 75 percent of all oral cancers are diagnosed in people who use tobacco products. Those who use tobacco and alcohol have an even higher risk.  However, there has been a 60-percent increase over the past decade in the number of oral cancer diagnoses in people under the age of 30 with none of the classic risk factors listed, due to a strong connection with the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

HPV is transmitted via intimate oral-sexual contact, and is more likely to be present in those who have engaged in this activity with multiple partners.

There are about 1,700 more people developing HPV-related cancers each year. Anyone older than 12 who is sexually active or who has had more than three sexual partners is included in the risk profile for developing HPV, and therefore at increased risk for oral cancer. If someone engages in all three of the above behaviors, the risks are even higher.

If oral cancer is detected and treated in its early stages, the five-year survival rate climbs to 80-90 percent.

Areas of highest risk for oral cancer are the side of the tongue, floor of the mouth and back of the throat, so regular dental visits must include a comprehensive examination of the soft tissues at least annually. Commit to getting screened for oral cancer yourself, and talk frankly with your teens about its strong connection to oral sex. It may just save a life.

Further information and resources can be found at

Stuart Rich, DDS, is an Auburn dentist and regular contributor to the Auburn Reporter. You can contact his office with any questions at 253-939-6900.

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