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Annual Dental Visits Catch Oral Cancer Sooner

October 31, 2012

By Nancy Volkers
InteliHealth News Service

INTELIHEALTH - Visiting the dentist at least once a year increases the chances of oral cancer being found at an earlier, more treatable stage, a study has found.

Brown University researchers did the study. It included 441 people who had been diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer. This includes cancers of the:

  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Pharynx (a tube that runs from the back of the nose to the top of the windpipe)
  • Throat
  • Tongue
  • Tonsils

Researchers divided the patients into two groups. One group visited a dentist at least once a year. The other group went to the dentist less than once a year, or never went.

People who had oral cancer and rarely or never went to the dentist were more than nine times as likely to be diagnosed at a later stage. Researchers also looked at combined numbers for people who hadeither oral or pharyngeal cancer. Those who rarely or never visited a dentist were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed at a later stage. Their tumors also were larger when they were diagnosed.

In general, the earlier a cancer is found, the better the odds of survival. About 82% of people diagnosed with oral cancers that have not spread can be expected to survive for at least 5 years. About 57% of people with cancer that has spread to a nearby lymph node will survive that long. If oral cancer has spread beyond the head and neck, the 5-year survival rate is about 35%.

In May 2012, an expert American Dental Association panel found that oral cancer screening by dentists can find cancers at an earlier stage.

The Brown University study appears in the November issue of the journal Cancer Causes and Control.

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