Disparities in Oral Cancer: The Need for Early Detection and Treatment in the Black Community
Oral cancer, also called mouth cancer, is a collective term for cancers that affect the mouth or oral cavity. This form of cancer can develop anywhere in the lips, gums, tongue, salivary glands, inner lining of the cheeks, roof of the mouth, or floor of the mouth. It also affects your oropharynx, which is the back part of your tongue, the roof of your mouth, tonsils, and the back of your throat.
Of these, Black Americans are more likely to receive a late diagnosis at an advanced stage of the disease, are less likely to get adequate treatment, and have worse overall survival rates than other racial-ethnic groups, according to a study published in Anticancer Research.
The NIDCR reported that the five-year survival rate for oral cancer for Black people is 52 percent, compared with a 70-percent survival rate for white patients — even though there is a higher incidence of oral cancer in white Americans.
These reflect a low awareness of oral cancer among Black Americans and hidden biases in the healthcare system.
Reasons for Delayed Diagnosis in the Black Community
A study published in OTO Open found that Black Americans were disproportionately affected by a lack of health insurance and sought medical care at later stages — lowering their chances of survival.
“Some [other] factors might be mistrust of the medical system, lower awareness of head and neck cancers, and lower rates of dental care and screening,” says Paul Walker, MD, a head and neck oncologic surgeon at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
According to Beomjune Kim, DMD, MD, head and neck and microvascular reconstructive surgeon at City of Hope Atlanta, these disparities might also be a result of socioeconomic factors (employment, income, education, community safety, and social support) or simply lifestyle habits, like higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption.
“Genetic differences can affect survival outcomes, and Black patients have a significantly higher number of mutations in their tumors when compared with white patients,” says Dr. Kim.