Oral cancer most commonly involves the lips or the tongue. It may also occur on the:
Floor of the mouth
Roof of the mouth (palate)
Surgery to remove the tumor is usually recommended if the tumor is small enough. Surgery may be used together with radiation therapy and chemotherapy for larger tumors. Surgery is not commonly done if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck.
Other treatments may include speech therapy or other therapy to improve movement, chewing, swallowing, and speech.
Approximately half of people with oral cancer will live more than 5 years after they are diagnosed and treated. If the cancer is found early, before it has spread to other tissues, the cure rate is nearly 90%. However, more than half of oral cancers have already spread when the cancer is detected. Most have spread to the throat or neck.
About 1 in 4 persons with oral cancer die because of delayed diagnosis and treatment.
UnitedHealthcare Specialty Benefits now provides coverage under all of its insured dental plans for a new oral cancer screening test for potential abnormalities inside the mouth, including premalignant lesions and oral cancer.
The test, which uses light-contrast technology, can improve a dentist's ability to identify, evaluate and monitor lesions that are difficult to see using visual inspection under conventional lighting.
"Evidence shows that dentists can serve as a valuable 'early warning' system for patients who have signs of oral cancer," said Dr. Michael Weitzner, vice president of clinical product development for UnitedHealthcare Specialty Benefits dental unit.
More than 34,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. The death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high - not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development. Studies confirm that survival does correlate with stage, making early diagnosis and treatment optimal for this disease and may have a positive impact on an individual's medical costs.