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Oral Health and Cancer

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that one in two adults in the US aged 30 and over suffer from periodontal or gum disease.

The prevalence of the inflammatory disease is at about 47.2 percent, according to the CDC study Prevalence of Periodontitis in Adults in the United States: 2009 and 2010.

About 64.7 million American adults live with mild, moderate, or severe cases of periodontal disease. Among people 65 and above, the prevalence rates rise to 70.1 percent.

Breast Cancer

In a 2015 study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention, postmenopausal women with gum disease were found to have higher chances of developing cancer.

The research analyzed 73,737 postmenopausal women in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI) who were never diagnosed with breast cancer. Nearly 26 percent of the respondents had gum disease of some sort.

Six-and-a-half years later, 2,124 of the women later had breast cancer. The findings showed that the risk of breast cancer in women who had 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 of 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 that can usually be seen via an X-ray or by feeling a lump. The tumor is malignant or cancerous when the cells invade the surrounding tissues and transfers to other areas of the body.

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

According to non-profit organization breastcancer.org, more than 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.

Considered a milder form of periodontal disease, gingivitis 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 bi-annual dental cleanings.

On the other hand, periodontitis is an advanced case of gum diseases. It can damage the bones, gums, and tissues if left without treatment. In periodontitis, the gums form spaces called pockets as they pull away from the teeth. These pockets then become infected, leading to the inflammation around the tooth.

Aside from its effects on oral health, periodontal disease has links to other chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Researchers have also found relations between gum diseases 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.

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

The CDC recommends keeping oral health in check by brushing and flossing daily to remove bacteria lingering in the mouth. The dentist also plays a significant role in the oral health. This is particularly true in the detection for signs of gum disease that can be conducted via biannual check-ups.

Oral Cancer

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

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

Chaz Hammel-Smith, Roger Ebert, and Nancy Kwan at the Hawaii International Film Festival in October 2010
Roger Ebert (center) and his wife Chaz Hammel-Smith give the thumbs-ups to Nancy Kwan at the Hawaii International Film Festival on October 20, 2010.
Prominent figures who battled oral cancer include renowned film critic Roger Ebert who passed away in 2013. Ebert was diagnosed and received treatment for cancer in his salivary gland in 2003. Before this diagnosis, he was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. A cancerous tissue was removed near his right jaw in 2006, resulting in the film critic’s inability to speak.

Oral cancer of the lips sees optimistic figures of a 93 percent five-year relative survival rate at the local stage. Although a considerable plunge is observed at the regional level or when nearby tissues and lymph nodes have already been affected, 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 which have spread to distant sites presents a higher figure than the regional stage at 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 with a 75 percent survival rate for the local stage. The rate dips for the regional stage at 38 percent and distant stage at 20 percent. 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 below 55 as more than 25 cases of oral cancer in this age group have been diagnosed. Regarding sex, men are more likely to have oral cancer than women.

Still, other factors contribute to the development of cancer aside from age and sex. Unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can trigger cancer growth. However, individuals without a smoking history and only occasional alcohol intake can still have oral cancer. This is especially true for those with a family history of cancer.

Indicators of oral cancer include swelling or the thickening of an area of the oral cavity. It may also present lumps, bumps, eroded areas, and rough spots. Likewise, velvety white, red, or white-and red-patches in the mouth, unexplained bleeding, and inexplicable numbness in the face, mouth or neck area are frequent in oral cancer cases. 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 in chewing or swallowing. They might also have difficulty in speaking or moving the jaw and the tongue and feature a change in voice, ear pain, chronic sore throat, and/or dramatic weight loss.

Early detection using an oral cancer screening is imperative in increasing the survival rate from oral cancer. A routine dental checkup can help detect abnormalities that can indicate irregularities in the tissue of the neck, head, face, and oral cavity.

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