What is Oral and Throat Cancer?

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Cancer affecting the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat) are typically referred to as Oral and Throat Cancer. Each year, over 50,000 individuals are diagnosed with mouth cancer in the United States. Though cases have been steadily increasing over the last 20 years, traditional diagnostic tests have seen little to no improvement or innovation. Moreover, though oral and throat cancer can be treated easily in early stages, most individuals are not diagnosed until late stage progression.

In this article, you will learn early signs, symptoms, and risks associated with oral and throat cancer and how it is diagnosed.

Risk Factors Associated with Oral and Throat Cancer

There are a number of risk factors that are associated with oral and throat cancer. Risk factors may vary from individual to individual.

Tobacco Use

One of the strongest risk factors connected to oral cancers is smoking tobacco products. Smokeless products are also closely associated with cancers of the cheek, gums, and inner surface of the lips, including snuff, dip, spit, chew, or dissolvable tobacco. Additionally, research has also found that long-term exposure to secondhand smoking can also contribute to an individual’s risk. Individuals who use tobacco products can be up to 50x more likely to develop oral and throat cancer. 

Alcohol Use

Excessive consumption of alcohol is heavily associated with oral cancers. Studies have shown that oral and throat cancer was 6x more likely in those who excessively drank alcohol in comparison to non-drinkers.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection

The Human Pappilomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus that affects the sexual organs. Though many individuals may never experience symptoms associated with infection, HPV has been linked to a number of cancers that affect the penis, vulva, cervix, vagina, anus, mouth, and throat. HPV DNA (a sign of HPV infection) is found in about 2 out of 3 throat cancers and in a much smaller portion of oral cancers.

Other less common risk factors include excess body weight, age, gender, ultraviolet (UV) light exposure, poor nutrition, and other genetic syndromes.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Oral and Throat Cancer

The American Cancer Society has identified several common symptoms of oral and throat cancer such as:

  • Inflamed white, red, or splotchy patches inside the oral cavity (mouth)

  • Swelling, lumps, or eroded spots on the gums, cheeks, lips, or other soft regions of the mouth.

  • Chronic instances of a sore throat

  • Consistent and unexplained bleeding

  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing, or moving the mouth during speaking

  • Swelling and pain in the jaw or around the ears

  • Persisting sores on the neck, face, or mouth region that fail to heal

  • Increased weight loss

The average age of individuals who are diagnosed with oral and throat cancer is above the age of 60, though 20% of cases do occur in people under the age of 55. More common in men than women, the lifetime risk of developing oral and throat cancer is about 1 in 60 in men, and 1 in 140 in women

How is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?

When diagnosed early, survival rate has been found to be close to 84%, however, more than 70% of oral cancer diagnoses are not made until the disease is in its late stages. This dramatically reduces the 5 year survival rate to less than 50%. In most cases, doctors do not require routine pre-screening tests or programs for oral and throat cancers. It is often left to patient discretion to request or schedule routine oral exams by a dentist, doctor, or even self-exam to improve with early detection. 

If pre-cancer or cancer is suspected, a health professional may request a sample from the oral or mouth cavity for biological screening. Identification and diagnosis of oral and throat cancer relies on a biopsy of suspicious tissue and further assessment from a pathologist. However, more than 29% of adults have never received a visual examination for oral cancer, leaving many individuals at risk of late detection.

Introducing CancerDetect® by Viome

In recent years, scientific research studying oral and throat cancer has found direct relationships with a number of microbial signatures from the oral microbiome. These studies have found that cancer risk may be highly associated with specific oral microbial communities that may improve detection protocols and increase early-detection rates for the disease. Analyzing these key microbial interactions can improve early-detection to help individuals understand whether they require an evaluation with a healthcare professional to properly diagnose their condition.

Viome’s new CancerDetect test has been designated Breakthrough Device for accelerated Review by FDA for the qualitative detection of OSCC and OPSCC. CancerDetect test fulfills the need to promote early detection of oral cancer with a non-invasive, objective, easy to administer, highly sensitive and highly specific detection aid. CancerDetect can then be used in conjunction with a clinical professional evaluation to receive early diagnosis to improve patient treatment outcomes.

Viome’s CancerDetect Test is not an FDA-approved or cleared test.