Oral Cancer is Very Common

Every hour of every day in the United States, someone dies from oral cancer. Oral cancer is the 6th most diagnosed form of cancer in the United States. Oral cancer has a 50% 5 year survival rate. This translates into at least 8,000 deaths per year.

Risk factors for developing oral cancer include: frequent alcohol consumption, tobacco use, past history of cancer, a compromised immune system and presence of HPV virus. However, one out of four newly diagnosed cases of oral cancer are in patients under the age of 40 with NO known risk factors.

Survival rates for oral cancer have not improved significantly in the past 40 years.

The most common form of oral cancer is oral squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma makes up 90% of all oral cancers. Detection of squamous cell carcinoma is challenging because its appearance is similar to other benign lesions of the mouth. Early squamous cell carcinoma lesions can appear as a reddened area, white patch or a red and white area under the normal light. Frequently by the time the lesion becomes visible, it has advanced to the invasive stage. The high mortality rate is directly related to the difficulty in detecting lesions in their early, less invasive stages.

Age is frequently a cited risk factor of oral cancer. This is believed to be from the accumulated damage from other risk factors including tobacco. Tobacco in all forms is the number one risk factor, 75% of all diagnosed cases of oral cancer are in tobacco users. Alcohol by itself is a very significant risk factor. The combined use of alcohol and tobacco increases the risk of developing oral cancer by 15 times. The human papilloma virus (HPV) has been identified as a risk factor. There are over 80 different strains of HPV. One percent of all cases of oral cancer have HPV 16, which is the cause of cervical cancer. Some studies have shown a diet high in fruits and vegetables may have a protective affect against oral cancer and many other forms of cancer.

Detecting Oral Cancer

One of the most dangerous aspects of oral cancer is in early stages it is painless and there may not be any physical signs or changes so it can go unnoticed. The good news is that Dr. Shamblott can see the lesions while they are in their earliest stages. The lesion can appear as a small sore or ulcer resembling a canker sore. It can also appear as a red, white or red and white area of tissue. There are many tissue changes that appear re, white or red and white and are benign. These could be cheek bites or burns from hot food. It is very important to have any sore or discolored area of the mouth that does not heal within fourteen days looked at by a dentist. Other things to look for include a lump in the mouth or neck, painful or difficult swallowing, long lasting hoarseness or any numbness in the mouth or face. The most common areas for oral cancer to develop are the lips, tongue and the floor of the mouth. Other areas where oral cancers are found include the tongue, roof of the mouth and the pillars of the tonsils. If Dr. Shamblott decides an area is suspicious, the only way to rule out oral cancer is to biopsy the area. The biopsy specimen is sent to the University of Minnesota, Department of Oral Pathology for a microscopic analysis. Biopsies are comfortable and quick procedures.

Any sore, irritation, discolored area or irritation that does not heal within fourteen days is suspicious and should be evaluated immediately and biopsied as needed.

Oral cancer screenings are an important part of dental exams. During the oral cancer screening process, Dr. Shamblott will examine the oral tissues for any anomalies. Suspicious areas will be discussed and treated appropriately.

Oral Cancer Facts

  • Oral cancer kills 3 times as many people as cervical cancer.
  • Oral cancer is as common as leukemia.
  • Oral cancer kills more people than skin cancer (melanoma).
  • When detected in the early stages, oral cancer has greater than and 80% survival rate.
  • When detected in the late stages, oral cancer has less than a 22% survival rate.
  • Oral cancer has been linked to the human papilloma virus (HPV-16). This means every man and women 18 years and older need to be screened for oral cancer annually.
  • Oral cancer has a higher fatality rate than leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, testicular cancer, cervical cancer and malignant melanoma.

Famous Victims of Oral Cancer

George Harrison
Sammy Davis, Jr
Burl Ives
Bill Blass
Rod Stewart
Eddie VanHalen
Humphrey Bogart
Aaron Spelling
Jack Klugman
Sigmund Freud
Babe Ruth


  • Men have a slightly higher risk of developing oral cancer than women.
  • African Americans have a higher risk of developing oral cancer than Caucasians.
  • The risk of developing oral cancer increases after age 45.
  • The use of any form of tobacco and alcohol significantly increases your risk of developing oral cancer.
  • HPV infection from sexual activity increases your risk of oral cancer.

Lower Your Risk

  • Do not use any form of tobacco.
  • Minimize alcohol consumption-the risk increases with the quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption.
  • Use lip balms with sunscreen.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with at least five servings per day.s