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Oral, Head and Neck Pathology

Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Screenings 

About 650,000 people are diagnosed with oral, head and neck cancers each year, resulting in more than 330,000 deaths each year. Regular oral cancer self-exams and routine oral, head and neck cancer screenings for at-risk patients can aid in early detection and improve survival rates.  

Oral Cancer Risk Factors and Survival Rates 

Many patients are aware that risk factors for oral and oropharyngeal cancer include tobacco use and alcohol consumption, but certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) and genetic conditions also can put patients at risk. Individuals should discuss their risk for oral, head and neck cancer with their general practitioner.  

While the five-year survival rate for oral and oropharyngeal cancer is about 65 percent, improved survival rates are seen among patients who were diagnosed early at Stage I and II. When the cancer is still localized and has not spread to the neck lymph nodes called the regional lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 84 percent, dropping to 66 percent when it has spread (metastasized) to regional lymph nodes and 39 percent for spread to distant organs (distant metastasis). Unfortunately, 67 percent of all new cases of oral, head and neck cancers are diagnosed at a late stage (Stage III and IV). 

Do You Need an Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Screening? 

Currently, no evidence supports or denies the benefits of screening the general population for oral, head and neck cancer. However, a visual examination as part of routine medical or dental care (such as an annual physical or dental checkup) can be effective in decreasing the mortality rate of oral cancer in high-risk patients:  

  • Routine dental visits should involve a thorough head and neck exam. 
  • Patients should discuss with their general practitioner their risk factors and family history. 
  • General practitioners should perform a visual and physical exam of the head and neck in patients who have risk factors (such as excessive alcohol or tobacco use) or who show signs of oral and oropharyngeal cancer. 

Patients should perform regular oral cancer self-exams and look for:  

  • Red or white patches in the mouth 
  • Abnormal lumps or thickening of tissue 
  • Sores that fail to heal 
  • Masses or lumps in the neck 
  • Chronic sore throats 
  • Difficulty swallowing 

Don’t ignore suspicious lumps or sores – report them to a doctor or dentist who can do a thorough examination. 

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Last updated April 2020

The information provided here is not intended as a substitute for professional medical or dental advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is provided to help you communicate effectively when you seek the advice of your oral and maxillofacial surgeon.