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Is oral cancer fatal?

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Quick Answer

Oral cancer is not always fatal, and survival rates depend on the cancer location and stage, explains American Cancer Society. In general, cancers of the tonsils and oropharynx have a five-year survival rate of about 66 percent. The survival rate is 60 percent for other forms of oral cancer.

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Full Answer

When detected and treated early, oral cancer is usually curable, according to University of Rochester Medical Center. However, oral cancers have a relatively high death rate because they often go undetected until later stages due to a lack of opportunistic screening, notes The Oral Cancer Foundation. Another contributing factor to delayed detection is the cancer-causing virus HPV16. Unlike oral cancer that develops due to other factors, oral cancer resulting from an HPV16 infection often does not exhibit visible lesions or tissue discoloration that signal something is wrong early on.

Avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption lowers one's risk of developing oral cancer, states University of Rochester Medical Center. Symptoms of oral cancer may include mouth or lip sores that do not heal, lumps in the oral cavity, numbness in the mouth and voice changes. Loose or painful teeth, ear pain, red or white patches, and problems swallowing or chewing food are other signs. About 20 percent of the time, white patches inside the mouth, called leukoplakia, are precancerous, so they should be evaluated by a medical professional.

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