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Oral Health and Cancer

In 2012, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that one in two US adults aged 30 and older suffer from periodontal or gum disease. The prevalence of this inflammatory disease is at about 47.2 percent. The latter was found in a CDC study, Prevalence of Periodontitis in Adults in the United States: 2009 and 2010. Worse, studies show that those with gum disease have a higher cancer of developing cancer.

Today, about 64.7 million American adults have mild, moderate, or severe cases of periodontal disease. Among people 65 and above, the prevalence rate rises to 70.1 percent. It’s a scary thought.

The Link Between Oral Health and Breast Cancer

In 2015, a study in the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention, discovered that postmenopausal women with gum disease were more likely to develop breast cancer.

The research analyzed 73,737 postmenopausal women in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI) without a current or previous diagnosis of breast cancer. Nearly 26 percent of the respondents had gum disease of some sort. Six-and-a-year years later, 2,124 of the women later had breast cancer.

The findings show that the risk of breast cancer in women with gum disease is 14 percent higher than those without gum disease.

Smoking makes matters worse, putting smoking women at an even greater risk. Women with gum disease who quit smoking within the last 20 years recorded a higher risk at 36 percent. Meanwhile, women with gum disease who never smoked had a six percent risk of breast cancer.

Breast cancer is one of the most widespread cancers, especially among women. The disease begins when breast cells grow out of control and form a tumor. The tumor can be malignant or cancerous when the cells invade the surrounding tissues and transfer to other areas of the body. At first, one may be completely unaware of the tumor’s formation. The tumor may be discovered via an X-ray or found in the form of an unusual lump during self-examination of the breasts and later confirmed by a doctor.

In the US, about one in eight women will have invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. About 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to appear in US women in 2017.

According to non-profit organization,, over 3.1 million women in the US has/had breast cancer as of March 2017.

Gum Disease is usually Classified into Two Types: Gingivitis and Periodontitis

Gingivitis and Periodontitis are both serious oral diseases. However, they have their differences.


Considered a milder form of periodontal diseasegingivitis is often the first stage of its more serious counterpart. The gums become inflamed when plaque and tartar stay on the teeth for prolonged periods of time. Thus, this can cause redness, swelling, and bleeding of the gum tissue.

Fortunately, no bone loss occurs alongside gingivitis. It can also be reversed by practicing proper oral hygiene like regular brushing, daily flossing, and dental cleanings. Patients diagnosed with gingivitis may require more frequent dental cleanings than those without the disease in order to revive their oral health.


On the other hand, periodontitis is an advanced case of gum disease. It can damage the bones, gums, and tissues if left untreated. In periodontitis, the gums form spaces called pockets as they pull away from the teeth. These pockets then become infected, leading to inflammation around the teeth.

Aside from its effects on oral health, periodontal disease has links to other chronic diseases. This includes diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Researchers have also found relations between gum disease and cancers, including breast cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 508,000 deaths among women were due to breast cancer in 2011.

Breast cancer incidents in the country have remained stable since 2004. The mortality rate has decreased by 38 percent from 1989 to 2014. Still, minimizing the risk of breast cancer continues to be vital.

Avoiding Gingivitis & Periodontitis

To reduce their risk, one should exercise regularly, eat healthily, and maintain a healthy weight. Likewise, one should limit alcohol and smoking, and practice good oral care.

The CDC recommends keeping oral health in check by brushing and flossing daily. These daily tasks help remove bacteria lingering in the mouth. The dentist also plays a significant role in oral health. This is particularly true when detecting the signs of gum disease, which can be conducted via biannual check-ups.

Oral Cancer Risks, Signs, & Survival Rates

Oral cancer is the growth of cancerous tissue in the oral cavity. It comprises about 85 percent of all head and neck cancers.

Risk Factors

Smoking, chewing tobacco, and excessive alcohol consumption are some risks of oral cancer. Additionally, a family history of cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), and excessive sun exposure are other risk factors. Still, the absence of risk factors does not excuse people from eventually developing cancer. After all, more than 25 percent of all oral cancers happen in individuals without a smoking history and occasional alcohol intake.

Prominent figures who battled oral cancer include renowned film critic, Roger Ebert. Ebert passed away from the disease in 2013. He received a diagnosis and treatment for cancer in his salivary gland in 2003. Before this diagnosis, he had papillary thyroid cancer. A cancerous tissue near his right jaw was surgically removed in 2006, resulting in the film critic’s inability to speak.

Survival Rates & Average Age of Development

Oral cancer of the lips has an optimistic survival rate. 93 percent of those with the diagnosis at the local stage have a five-year survival rate. A considerable plunge is observed at the regional level or when nearby tissues and lymph nodes have already been affected. Though, the numbers continue to show a positive outlook of survival at 48 percent. However, quite interestingly, the five-year survival rate for oral cancer of the lip for cases that spread to distant sites presents a higher figure than the regional stage. The survival rate for the latter was 52 percent.

For oral cancer of the tongue, the figures remain promising. Survival rates are at 78 percent for the local stage, 63 percent for the regional stage, and 36 percent for distant stages. Meanwhile, oral cancer of the tongue has a lower five-year relative survival rate than cases of the lip and tongue. Still, the numbers are considerably high. For instance, there’s a 75 percent survival rate for local stage oral cancer. The rate dips for the regional stage at 38 percent. And, distant stage oral cancer has a 20 percent survival rate. This is almost 50 percent and 74 percent lower than the local stage rate respectively.

The average age of developing oral cancer is 62 years old. Still, oral cancer can also affect the people younger than 55. After all, 25% of oral cancer cases in this age group have been diagnosed. Regarding sex, men are more likely to have oral cancer than women.

Still, other factors contribute to cancer besides age and sex. Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can trigger cancer growth. However, individuals without a smoking history and no alcohol intake can still have oral cancer. This is especially true for those with a family history of cancer.

Signs & Symptoms

Indicators of oral cancer include swelling or the thickening of an area of the oral cavity. It may also present itself as lumps, bumps, eroded areas, and rough spots in the mouth. Likewise, velvety white, red, or white-and-red-patches in the mouth may appear. One may also experience unexplained bleeding and inexplicable numbness in the face, mouth, or neck area. Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth which easily bleed can also appear.

Because of these symptoms, people with oral cancer can have difficulty chewing or swallowing. They might also have difficulty speaking or moving the jaw and the tongue. Likewise, they may feature a change in voice, ear pain, chronic sore throat, and/or dramatic weight loss.

Early detection via oral cancer screening is imperative. This can help increase the survival rate of oral cancer. A routine dental checkup can help detect abnormalities such as irregular tissue of the neck, head, face, and oral cavity.

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