Thursday, November 18, 2010

Today is the Great American Smokeout

Becoming Tobacco-Free Can Reduce Your Cancer Risk
By Snehal Patel, DDS, M.D.
Sentara Potomac Hospital Medical Staff

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation close to 36,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal (throat) cancer this year. It will cause over 8,000 deaths, killing roughly one person per hour, 24-hours-per-day.

Of those 36,000 newly diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will be alive in five years. This is a number which has not significantly improved in decades. The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cancers which we hear about routinely such as cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, and endocrine system cancers such as thyroid, or skin cancer (malignant melanoma).

The death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development. Often it is only discovered when the cancer has metastasized to another location. Prognosis at this stage of discovery is significantly worse than when it is caught in a localized intra-oral area. There are several types of oral cancers, but around 90 percent are squamous cell carcinomas. It is estimated that approximately $3.2 billion is spent in the United States each year on the treatment of head and neck cancers.

Studies have shown that the death rate from oral cancer is about four times higher for cigarette smokers than for nonsmokers. It is also widely believed in the medical field that the heat generated by smoking pipes and cigars irritates the mouth and can lead to lip cancer.

Those at an especially high risk of developing oral cancer are over 40 years of age, heavy drinkers and smokers, or users of smokeless tobacco, including snuff. Campaigns to promote the safety of smokeless tobacco are being initiated, but it is clear that while it may reduce lung cancers, it has a negative effect on the rates or oral cancers.

Suspicious lesions of the oral cavity can undergo a simple biopsy under local anesthesia in the office, in order to obtain a definitive diagnosis.

Want to quit?
If you need help to stop using tobacco products, join Sentara Potomac Hospital’s Nicotine Anonymous Support Group. This friendly group meets every Wednesday, 7 – 8 p.m. at Sentara Potomac Hospital to offer support and tips for staying tobacco free. We know you can do it! Free. For information call the Health Connection at 703-221-2500.

The American Cancer Society is marking the 35th Great American Smokeout on November 18 by encouraging smokers to use the date to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By doing so, smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life – one that can lead to reducing cancer risk. Quitting smoking is not easy, but it can be done. To have the best chance of quitting successfully, you need to know what you're up against, what your options are, and where to go for help. Visit for more information.