About Oral Cancer

Importance of Screening

Early detection is the key to reducing the devastating impact of oral cancer on victims and their families. Annual oral cancer screening of patients at increased risk for oral cancer, patients age 18 and older, and tobacco users between the ages of 18-39, is the only way to achieve the early detection of oral cancer necessary to reduce the death rate of oral cancer - a death rate that has remained unchanged for more than 40 years!

The chart below shows how the death rates of other types of cancers have dropped with routine visual/manual screening examinations followed by annual examinations with an adjuctive screening technology. As you can see, when patients at increased risk for breast cancer, prostate cancer and cervical cancer began receiving annual screenings with the mammogram, PSA test and Pap smear, respectively, there was a significant decline in the death rates due to these cancers.

Adjunctive Screening Technologies and Death Rates

Disease Adjunctive Screening Test (introduced) Decrease in death rates For the Period
Breast CA Mammogram (1972) (45%) a 1972 -1992
Cervical CA Pap Smear (1952) (70%-80%) b 1950 -1990
Prostate CA PSA test (1986) (17.6%) c 1993 -2002

a. American Cancer Society Cancer (Vol. 95, No. 3: 458-69, 451-57)

b. American Society of Clinical Pathology, ASCP.org 6-27-03

c. Canadian Medical Association CMAJ March 5, 2002; 166 (5)

Risk Factors

Relative Oral Cancer Risk Profile

As is the case with most cancers, age is the primary risk factor for oral cancer. Approximately 90% of oral cancer victims are age 40 and older, recent studies indicate that increasingly, patients younger than age 40 are being diagnosed with oral cancer. Though tobacco and alcohol use are the primary lifestyle risk factors that contribute to the development of oral cancer, approximately 25% of oral cancer victims do not use tobacco or alcohol, and have no lifestyle risk factors. Oral cancer affects men more than women, 2:1, but oral cancer in women is on the rise nationwide.

Increased risk
  • Patients age 18-39
  • Sexually active patients (HPV 16/18)
High risk
  • Patients age 40 and older
  • Tobacco users (any type, 18-39, within 10 years)
Highest risk
  • Patients age 40 and older with lifestyle risk factors (Tobacco, alcohol use)
  • Patients with history of oral cancer

Statistics, Facts, and Famous Victims

The Deadly Statistics
  • Every hour of every day, one American dies of oral cancer.
  • The mortality rate associated with oral cancer has not improved significantly in the last 40 years.
  • More than 30,000 Americans will receive an oral cancer diagnosis this year. In five years, less than 57% will still be alive.2
  • 8,000 Americans will die each year of oral cancer. Oral cancer is far too often detected in late stage development -- the primary reason for the high death rate. Oral cancer can have potentially disfiguring effects on patients, seriously compromising their quality of life. Early detection of abnormalities can make a large difference in life expectancy; oral cancer is 90% curable when found early. Unfortunately, 70% of oral cancers are diagnosed in the late stages, and 43% of those diagnosed will die within five years.
  • The American Cancer Society projects that almost as many women will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year as they will be with cervical cancer (approximately 10,000).
  • There are almost as many cases of HPV-related oral cancer as cases of HPV-related cervical cancer.1
Famous Victims

Oral cancer has touched the lives of many people; however some of the better known oral cancer victims may surprise you.

  • Babe Ruth
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Jack Klugman
  • Aaron Spelling
  • Alan King
  • Humphrey Bogart
  • Lana Turner
  • Eddie Van Halen
  • Rod Stewart
  • Bill Blass
  • Burl Ives
  • Sammy Davis, Jr.
  • John Prine
  • Jim Thorpe
  • Mary Wells
  • George Harrison

Diagnosis and Treatment

The following links are intended for those who have been diagnosed with oral cancer and are seeking information and support resources.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has written this booklet to help people with oral cancer and their families and friends better understand this disease. The link below describes symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. It also has information about rehabilitation and about sources of support to help patients cope with oral cancer. http://www.medhelp.org/NIHlib/GF-458.html

Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC) is a patient-directed, self-help organization dedicated to meeting the needs of oral and head and neck cancer patients. http://spohnc.org

The Yul Brynner Head and Neck Cancer Foundation http://www.yulbrynnerfoundation.org

Cancer Terminology Dictionary - A comprehensive dictionary of terms which will assist you in understanding terms that your doctors may use in relationship to cancer. Part of the National Cancer Institute website. http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary/

Additional Resource Links

Government Organizations

Oral Cancer Foundation


The Oral Cancer Foundation is a national public service, non-profit entity designed to reduce suffering and save lives through prevention, education, research, advocacy, and support.

FDA Cancer Tools


FDA Cancer Tools contains a variety of information related to cancer and approved cancer drug therapies.

The National Cancer Institute


NCI Public Inquiries Office
Building 31, Room 10A03
31 Center Drive, MSC 2580
Bethesda, MD 20892-2580

National Health Information Society


Referral Specialist
P.O. Box 1133
Washington, DC 20013-1133

The National Health Information Center (NHIC) is a health information referral service. NHIC puts health professionals and consumers who have health questions in touch with those organizations that are best able to provide answers.

National Oral Health Information Clearing House


1 Nohic Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3500

A service of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, they provide resources and a variety of health-related materials and educational resources that fall outside the scope of more technical, research-based collections. It has a strong patient education focus and highlights materials such as fact sheets, brochures, videocassettes, newsletter articles, catalogs, and other educational resources for patients and professionals.

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research


National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892-3500

The mission of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) is to promote the general health of the American people by improving their oral, dental and craniofacial health. The NIDCR aims to promote health, to prevent diseases and conditions, and to develop new diagnostics and therapeutics.

National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship


1010 Wayne Ave. Ste.770
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-650-9127 or 877- NCCS-YES

NCCS brings together cancer-related research organizations and institutions, cancer support and advocacy groups, and thousands of cancer survivors to work together in addressing the needs of those living with cancer.

SEER Program


The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute is the most authoritative source of information on cancer incidence and survival in the United States. Case ascertainment for SEER began on January 1, 1973.

The SEER Program currently collects and publishes cancer incidence and survival data from 11 population-based cancer registries and three supplemental registries covering approximately 14 percent of the US population. The expansion registries increase the coverage to approximately 26 percent. Information on more than 3 million in situ and invasive cancer cases is included in the SEER database, and approximately 170,000 new cases are accessioned each year within the SEER catchment areas. The SEER Registries routinely collect data on patient demographics, primary tumor site, morphology, stage at diagnosis, first course of treatment, and follow-up for vital status. The SEER Program is the only comprehensive source of population-based information in the United States that includes stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis and survival rates within each stage. The mortality data reported by SEER are provided by the National Center for Health Statistics.

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