Smoking and the risk of oral cancer

Fifty people will die from smoking in the next hour, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Tobacco contributes to one-third of cancers in the United States and almost 500,000 premature deaths each year.

One of the most common forms of cancer caused by tobacco is oral cancer. The Oral Cancer Foundation notes that one person in the United States dies every hour of oral cancer. The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cervical cancer, Hodgkin's disease, cancer of the brain, liver, testes, kidneys, or skin cancer.  The death rate of oral cancer is elevated because it is rarely diagnosed in the early stages.

When oral cancer is diagnosed and dental professionals can intervene quickly, the cure rate is almost 90 percent. Oral sores or lesions are extremely common, and while the vast majority are harmless, some are potentially dangerous; if not identified early, they may progress to a more advanced stage. In its later stages, oral cancer is a devastating disease and the treatment usually involves major facial surgery. 

An early sign of oral cancer can be a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth.
Other signs of oral cancer can include: •a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal;

  • a color change of the oral tissues;
  • a lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area;
  • pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips.

According to the American Dental Association, those specifically at risk for developing oral cancer include those who use any form of tobacco. Another risk factor includes the use of alcohol, especially when combined with smoking.  However, more than 25 percent of those who will be diagnosed with oral cancer have no risk factors at all. This illustrates the importance for all adults to have annual oral cancer screenings.

In order to diagnose an oral abnormality in its earliest possible stage, dentists can perform ViziLite oral cancer screenings. ViziLite uses a special mouth rinse and glow stick that illuminates irregular cells in the mouth that the doctor is not able to see with the naked eye. This is a simple, painless, and non-invasive screening that only takes a few minutes to perform. Because the average survival rate of oral cancer is merely five years after diagnosis, early detection is key. ViziLite plays a vital role in its early diagnosis.