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Oral or mouth cancer includes all cancers that begin in the mouth—including the tongue, cheeks and lips—or in the throat or tonsils. Oral cancer is most often associated with long-term tobacco smoking and normally appears as a sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal.
Oral cancer is most commonly found in the tongue, tonsils, and gums. It is also common in the saliva glands, roof of the mouth, and behind the wisdom teeth. Oral cancer may harm the parts of the mouth with important functions like speech, saliva output and swallowing.
Oral cancer often appears as sores or as red or white patches in the mouth that do not heal. Once it begins to grow, it can spread to other parts of the mouth and throat,- and to other parts of the body.
Oral cancer may be discovered duringregular visits to your dentist who may notice abnormal spots of tissue in or around the mouth or in the throat. Although, there are a number of things that can lead to bumps and sores in the mouth, if there is no obvious cause (like dentures or braces) doctors should be alert to the possibility of cancer.
Close to 90%, of all oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas that begin in the cells that line the mouth and throat. Oral cancer may also begin in the saliva glands or in the lymph tissue around the tonsils.
Oral Cancer Facts and Statistics
- In 2015, there will be about 39,500 new cases of oral cancer in the United States.
- There will be approximately 7,500 deaths from oral cancer in 2015 in the United States.
- Oral cancer is much more common in men than in women.
- The average 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is 63%, but if caught early the five-year survival rate increases to about 82%.
- Age is a major risk factor; most people who are diagnosed with oral cancer are over 70 years old. The risk of developing oral cancer is also high for people over the age of 50.
- Cancers in the head and neck account for only about 5% of all cancer cases, and about 30% of all cancers in the head and neck are oral cancers.
- The incidence rate of oral cancers is increasing both in the United States and worldwide.
- About 90% of oral cancers in men and 85% of oral cancers in women can be traced to lifestyle and environmental factors as opposed to genetics.
- Almost 25% of all oral cancer cases occur in people with no history of tobacco and alcohol use, although these are two major risk factors.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Smoking, chewing, or snuffing tobacco is by far the greatest and most common risk factor for oral cancer. Studies show that regular tobacco users are about 5 times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-tobacco users. Chronic smokers who quit have less of a risk than current smokers. Other risk factors include:
- Smoking or using marijuana products. Medical study results are mixed, Smoking and using marijuana products may have an effect on oral cancer risk.
- Heavy or chronic alcohol use. The highest risk factor includes both heavy tobacco and heavy alcohol use.
- Excessive sun or ultraviolet ray (UV) exposure. About 30% of lip cancer patients have a history of excessive sun or UV exposure.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Poor diet high in red/processed meats and low in fruits and vegetables.
- Previous radiation treatment to the head or neck.
- A personal or family history of oral cancer.
There are easy diagnostic tests doctors can use to timely detect oral cancer. Symptoms include:
- Red or white patches or bumps in the mouth that don’t go away, or sores in the mouth that will not heal or reoccur.
- Persistent swelling or pain in the mouth.
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing.
- Bleeding in the mouth.
- Pain in the jaw or neck.
- Loose teeth with no cause.
- Thickening of the skin that lines the mouth.
- Changes in voice or vocal abilities.
- A hoarse voice.
- Sudden weight loss with no explanation.
Diagnosing Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is often first observed during dentist visits when a dentist notices an unusual patch of skin or bump in the mouth. If dentists notice symptoms or if a patient is at high risk of oral cancer, the dentists can do a “brush test” that is quick and painless for the patient. This involves the use a stiff-bristled brush to scrape of cell samples from the outermost lining of parts of the mouth. These samples are then tested for cancerous cells.
If a brush sample shows cancerous cells, doctors will perform a biopsy to test tissue for the presence of cancerous cells. Doctors can also apply a blue dye called Toluidine Blue O to the part of the mouth where cancer is suspected. If the dye remains after rinsing, doctors will perform a biopsy.
Doctors can also test for oral cancer using a chemiluminescent light. Patients will rinse with a special acidic mouthwash and the doctor will examine the mouth with a light that will indicate healthy versus cancerous cells.
Oral Cancer Treatment
Oral cancer has high survival and recovery rates if caught early. Unfortunately, oral cancer is often diagnosed in advanced stages.
If the cancer is in its early stages and is local (meaning it hasn’t spread or metastasized), doctors may choose to surgically remove the affected tissue. In the early stages of the cancer, doctors may also try radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells, or may use radiation therapy in conjunction with chemotherapy.
Doctors may also use drug therapies that target specific functions of the cancer cells to stop their growth.
Malpractice and Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is incredibly expensive to treat—the average cost of treatments is over $200,000 not including the cost of lost wages and other losses. Oral cancer has clear risk factors and symptoms. As such, dentists and doctors should know the warning signs and should know when to order further diagnostic tests. Failure to order proper testing, or failure to correctly interpret or communicate the results of these tests can have fatal consequences.
If your oral cancer has been mishandled by a health care provider, call our offices today for a free consultation. You may be eligible for compensation.
The attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian have the experience you need, and we are dedicated to helping you and your family understand your legal rights.