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Oral Cancers: Devastating Forms of Carcinoma

Dr Kumaresh Krishnamoorthy

The Head and Neck Cancer Alliance (HNCA), formerly known as the Yul Brynner Head and Neck Cancer Foundation, is an organisation which was established in 2008

after an abnormality was found on the famous King and I actor’s vocal chords in the 1980s and he decided to spread awareness of the condition. HNCA now exists to highlight carcinomas of the head and neck region, promote their early detection, enables funding for research and pressure for legislation to combat the use of tobacco, which accounts for 85% of all such cancers.

Facts about Oral Cancer
Oral cancer remains one of the most devastating and disfiguring of all malignancies. It has a higher ratio of deaths per cases than that of breast and cervical cancer. The rate of secondary cancer in these patients is also higher than that of any other malignancy. Mouth cancer has a long waiting period and spreads very quickly.

Risk Factors
  • Although the use of tobacco and alcohol are risk factors for the development of oral cancer, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and other institutions have found that smoking was by far the biggest culprit, causing 21% of overall deaths.
  • The incidence of oral cancer in women has increased significantly, largely due to an increase in women smoking.
  • Children and young adults in India have started chewing gutkha, paan, beedi and areca nuts, a concoction often wrapped in a betel leaf and known as ‘betel quid’. This habit has increased the incidence of oral cancer within the Asian sub-continent and 11 and 12-year-old children are now being seen with pre-cancerous growths after just two years of chewing. Chewing tobacco has always been seen as socially acceptable in Indian families, who are generally unaware of the dangers, and will share these products at the end of a meal, regarding them as little more than mouth refreshers.
  • Over the past decade, an increasing number of young, non-smokers have developed mouth and throat cancer associated with the human-papillomavirus or HPV.
Need for screening programs
The earlier the lesions are found, the greater the chance of recovery, and a good quality of life and function. This is what makes the early detection of malignant or potentially malignant lesions through screening so important. On average, only half of those diagnosed with the disease will survive more than five years.

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