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The Oral Cancer Foundation is a national public service, IRS-registered 501(c)3 head and neck cancer charity designed to reduce suffering and save lives through prevention, education, research funding, advocacy, and patient support activities. Oral and oropharyngeal cancers are the largest group of those cancers that fall into the head and neck cancer category. Common names for it include such things as mouth cancer, tongue cancer, tonsil cancer, and throat cancer. Approximately 58,500 people in the US will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2024. This includes those cancers that occur in the mouth itself (salivary gland cancers, tongue cancers, mucosal soft tissue cancers), in the very back of the mouth known as the oropharynx (primarily tonsil and tonsillar crypt and base of tongue), and on the exterior lips of the mouth. For more than a decade, there has been an annual increase in the rate of occurrence of oral and oropharyngeal cancers. This is expected to continue as there is no national screening policy or protocol, and the disease’s risk factors remain relatively unchanged.

There are two distinct pathways by which most people come to oral and oropharyngeal cancer. One is through the use of tobacco and alcohol, a long-term historic problem and cause, and the other is through exposure to the HPV-16 virus (human papillomavirus version 16), a relatively newly (since 1999) identified etiology, and the same one is responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers in women. A small percentage of people (under about 10%) do get oral cancers from no currently identified cause. It is believed that these are likely related to genetic predisposition, frailty, or an unidentified shared risk factor.

While some think this is a rare cancer, mouth cancers will be newly diagnosed in about 145 new individuals each day in the US alone, and a person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day. If you add the head and neck subcategory of laryngeal throat cancers, the rates of occurrence (about 12,000 additional new cases per year) and death are significantly higher. When found at early stages of development, oral cancers can have an 80 to 90 % survival rate. Unfortunately at this time, the majority are found as late stage cancers, and this accounts for the very high death rate of about 43% at five years from diagnosis (for all stages and etiologies combined at time of diagnosis), and high treatment-related morbidity in survivors. Late-stage diagnosis is not occurring because most of these cancers are hard to discover (though some, like HPV origin disease, have unique discovery issues); it is because of a lack of public awareness coupled with the lack of a national program for opportunistic screenings which would yield early discovery by medical and dental professionals. This data is for the US only. Countries will have different incidence rates, death rates, and dominant etiologies. The worldwide burden of oral cancers is an estimated 657,000 new cases of cancers of the oral cavity and oropharynx each year and more than 330,000 deaths. (World Health Organization data). This data is likely conservative as actual reporting from all countries, particularly in the third world, is often problematic, and many cases are not reported.

This site will provide hundreds of pages of information about the occurrence rates. These risk factors lead to oral cancer, signs and symptoms, treatments, current research, complications of treatment, nutrition, related clinical trials, and current oral cancer-related news. It is the informational component of the Oral Cancer Foundation, which has many other initiatives related to the disease besides information dissemination. These range from funding of relevant research to improve treatments and overall survival and encourage early discovery (many organizations say they support research. However, every year, we have a funding budget to do so through a grant process), advocacy, mainly in government agencies to encourage things that have raged from the FDA control of tobacco to the HPV vaccination of boys at the CDC, to approvals for much-needed research funding at the NCI. Additionally, the foundation is active in tobacco cessation efforts targeting the rodeo and rural American demographics where tobacco still has a strong foothold, promoting use of the HPV vaccine to change the increasing rate of HPV oropharyngeal cancers over the next generation, providing equipment to aid in eating to help those who suffer from both a financial disparity and a swallowing dysfunction commonly produced by treatments that can last a lifetime, and a public self-screening and referral initiative; to increase early-stage discovery. OCF also maintains the world’s most prominent oral cancer patient and survivor support group online, with over 13,000 registered members and thousands more who view it regularly. There is an additional resource page dedicated to links to other sources of vetted information about oral cancer and treatment institutions, and the foundation produces regular podcasts directed at patients, survivors, and those in the dental and community of therapy involved in early discovery each month available on Apple Podcasts and other podcast platforms on the Internet, Oral Cancer Answers

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