Author: Rohan Walvekar, MD, Co-Director of ENT Services at University Medical Center
Oral cancer will be responsible for over 10,000 deaths and will affect over 50,000 people in the United States in 2018.
These numbers may surprise you, because, in general, oral cancers are not thought of as commonly occurring; however, Louisiana is one of the states with highest incidence of oral and pharyngeal cancers in the United States.
What is the rate of these cancers in Louisiana?
April honors Oral Cancer Awareness, and is a good time to learn about the signs, symptoms and treatment of oral cancer, as well as the importance of early detection.
What are oral cancers and why should we care about these cancers?
Oral cancers are cancers that affect parts of our mouth such as the gums, tongue or palate. They are most commonly caused by tobacco use and alcohol consumption. There is a new threat called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV-16) that can also cause certain types of oral and oropharyngeal cancers.
These cancers are important because they have a devastating effect on a person’s ability to communicate with the world around them by affecting speech and swallowing, breathing and appearance; treatment, which is most commonly involves surgical removal, may also have an serious impact on these functions that are so vital to us.
Surgical management is the ideal treatment for oral cancers but comes with the possibility of a disfiguring operation (e.g. removal of jaw bone or tongue affecting appearance or speech) and loss of function.
Early detection of oral cancer plays a vital role improving quality of life and function by limiting extent of surgery and consequently side effects of treatment.
In addition, it’s important to note that early-stage tumors (i.e. tumors detected at an earlier stage of the disease) have better chances of cure (5-year disease-free survival: 60-80 percent) as compared to cancers diagnosed when they are too large or advanced (5-year disease-free survival rates: 30-40 percent).
Unlike other types of cancers that may miss detection until they are too advanced; oral cancers can be diagnosed earlier with inspection and a biopsy – both of which can be easily done during an oral cavity examination by an expert in the clinic or at a cancer-screening event.
Patients who notice a sore, ulcer or growth in the mouth that has not responded to treatment or a lump in the neck (oral cancers can spread to lymph nodes in the neck) that does not go away either after treatment or spontaneously in 2-3 weeks, should get check by an oral cavity expert such as an ENT surgeon or Head & Neck Cancer Surgeon.
The slogan that the Head Neck Cancer Alliance (OHANCAW) promotes –“All you have to do is open your mouth” is a testament to how a simple cancer screening can save lives and improve outcomes for oral cancer patients who are diagnosed early.
Get screened – promote screening – save lives!
About Dr. Walvekar
Rohan R. Walvekar, MD, earned his doctoral degree from the University of Mumbai. After graduating in 1998, he completed a residency in Otolaryngology and Head Neck Surgery at the TN Medical College & BYL Nair Charitable Hospital, Mumbai, India, with triple honors. Subsequently, he completed two head neck surgery fellowships, and trained at at the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, which is India’s most prestigious cancer institute, catering to over 5000 new head neck cancer registrations a year. After completing an Advanced Head Neck Oncologic Surgery fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh, he became an Assistant Professor in Head Neck Surgery within the Department of Otolaryngology Head Neck Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Medical Center, prior to joining the LSU Health Sciences Center in July 2008. His clinical interests are head neck surgery and salivary endoscopy. His research interests include evaluating prognostic markers and clinical outcomes of head and neck cancer therapy and treatment of salivary gland disorders.