April is observed as “Oral Cancer Awareness Month” in the United States. Sponsored by the Oral Cancer Foundation, the campaign is a unique platform to highlight the importance of early detection and encourage oral cancer screenings. It aims to alert people about the causes and symptoms associated with the condition. As per reports from the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF), this year approximately 54,001 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer. It is estimated that 132 new people in the US every day will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer, and that one person every hour of the day, 24/7/365 will die from it. Also known as mouth cancer, oral cancer develops in the tissues of the mouth or the throat area at the back of the mouth, the oropharynx. As the condition does not depict any specific signs and symptoms in its early stages, diagnosis is difficult. However, if diagnosed in the early stages of development, the survival rate is about 80-90 percent. Billing and coding for this oral condition can be challenging, as there are several documentation rules involved. For accurate documentation of this condition, physicians can outsource medical billing and coding to a reputable company.

About 90 percent of oral cancers begin in the flat cells (squamous cells) that cover the surfaces of the mouth, tongue, and lips. The month-long campaign would highlight the importance of oral cancer screenings, startling facts about the severity of oral cancer, who is at risk, and warning signs patients need to know. Oral cancers occur when the cells on the lips or in the mouth develop changes (mutations) in their DNA and start growing without control. As these continue to grow and accumulate, they form a tumor. With time, these tumors may spread inside the mouth and migrate to other areas of the head and neck or other parts of the body.

Oral cancer occurs in two different ways among people. The primary way is through the use of tobacco and alcohol and the secondary method is through exposure to the HPV-16 virus (human papilloma virus version 16). On the other hand, a small percentage of people (under about 10%) get oral cancers from no currently identified cause. As tobacco and alcohol use are serious risk factors associated with the condition, smokers and heavy alcohol users need to undergo regular dental checkups to spot any symptoms at an early stage. As mentioned above, the condition may not cause any specific signs and symptoms in its early stages. The type and severity of symptoms may depend on and vary from person to person. Common symptoms include – mouth sores or ulcers (that bleed easily and do not heal), red or white patches in or behind the mouth, visible change in mouth tissue, unexplained swelling or fullness in the neck, loose teeth, difficult or painful swallowing, and pain and tenderness in the teeth or gums.

Initial diagnosis of this condition may begin with an examination of the lips and mouth of the patient to check for abnormalities like – areas of irritation, such as sores and white patches (leukoplakia). If any suspicious area is diagnosed, sample of cells may be collected for lab testing. The sample cells are analyzed for cancer or precancerous changes that indicate a risk of future cancer. Once the diagnosis of the condition is confirmed, the physician will further work to determine the extent or stage of the cancer. Endoscopy procedure may be performed to look for signs whether the cancer has spread beyond the mouth area. Imaging tests like X-ray, CT scan, MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) scans will be performed to determine the stage and severity of cancer. Oncologists and other specialists have to report the diagnosis, screening tests and other procedures performed using the correct medical codes. Medical billing services provided by experienced medical billing and coding companies ensure this so that accurate claim submissions are done. In ICD-10, codes for oral cancer come under the category – C00-C14 – Malignant neoplasms of lip, oral cavity and pharynx. Under each specific category, there are several sub-category codes –

  • C00 Malignant neoplasm of lip
  • C01 Malignant neoplasm of base of tongue
  • C02 Malignant neoplasm of other and unspecified parts of tongue
  • C03 Malignant neoplasm of gum
  • C04 Malignant neoplasm of floor of mouth
  • C05 Malignant neoplasm of palate
  • C06 Malignant neoplasm of other and unspecified parts of mouth
  • C07 Malignant neoplasm of parotid gland
  • C08 Malignant neoplasm of other and unspecified major salivary glands
  • C09 Malignant neoplasm of tonsil
  • C10 Malignant neoplasm of oropharynx
  • C11 Malignant neoplasm of nasopharynx
  • C12 Malignant neoplasm of pyriform sinus
  • C13 Malignant neoplasm of hypopharynx
  • C14 Malignant neoplasm of other and ill-defined sites in the lip, oral cavity and pharynx

This April, the United States observes the 22nd Annual Oral Cancer Awareness month, which highlights the fact that regular oral cancer examinations performed by oral health professionals remain the best method for detecting oral cancer in its early stages. The OCF along with other dental associations hosts – “Check Your Mouth” campaign. This initiative hosted by the OCF urges the public to regularly check for signs and symptoms of oral cancer between dental visits and to go for a detailed checkup with a dental professional if any of the symptoms do not improve or disappear even after two or three weeks. As part of the campaign, many dental organizations and professionals around the country open their offices to do free screenings to the public during this month each year as well. This is an important reminder to the public that when these cancers are detected and treated early, mortality and treatment related health problems are reduced. In addition, the OCF promotes the campaign through press releases, and other outreach efforts to make the public aware about the various screening activities during the awareness month. Free screenings are scheduled throughout the month wherein interested persons can call in and schedule an appointment.

Take part in Oral Cancer Awareness Campaign and spread more information about the importance of regular screening this April.