What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer includes cancers that affect any part of the mouth, the sinuses, or the back of throat. Despite not making the headlines very often, oral cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that in this year alone, just over 51,500 people will be diagnosed. Additionally, over 10,000 people will lose their lives to the disease. But even though oral cancer is serious and can be fatal, early detection and proactive treatment greatly increase the chance of survival.
Am I at risk?
Some of the risk factors are uncontrollable, including genetics, age, and gender, but some risks are dependent on lifestyle choices. Here are some examples of both controllable and uncontrollable risks:
- Gender – Men are two times more likely to develop oral cancer than women
- Age – People over the age of 55 are most affected by oral cancer and studies have shown that a patient’s risk begins to increase around age 40
- Tobacco use – Nearly 80% of those diagnosed with oral cancer use tobacco (including smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, smokeless tobacco, etc.)
- Excessive alcohol – While the occasional drink is probably harmless, habitual and heavy drinking can increase your risk of oral cancer
- Diet – Not eating enough fruits and vegetables can have a seriously negative impact on your overall health and also increases your risk of cancer
- Sun exposure – Too much time in the sun can increase your risk factor
What are the warning signs?
It is important to occasionally stop and take note of what is happening in our bodies in order to catch any warning signals it might be trying to send. From time to time, pause while brushing your teeth and ask yourself if you have noticed any of the following signs:
- Bumps, lumps, sores, rough spots, crusts, swelling or thickening of areas found inside your mouth, your throat, or on your lip.
- Velvety white, red, or speckled patches in the mouth.
- A feeling that something may be caught in your throat — and it doesn’t go away.
- Unexplained bleeding inside your mouth, or persistent sores on your face, neck or mouth that do not heal within two weeks time.
- Unexplained numbness or pain in any area of your face, mouth, or neck.
- Difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue.
- Swelling in your jaw.
- Your dentures are ill fitting, or your teeth don’t fit together properly.
- You have a chronic sore throat, persistent hoarseness, or a change in your voice.
- Ear pain in just one ear that does not result in hearing loss.
- Excessive weight loss.
While these symptoms do not always result in a diagnosis of oral cancer, it is good to call your dentist and make an appointment as soon as you begin to notice them. Early diagnosis is key to successful treatment.
Can I prevent oral cancer?
Oral cancer can be easily treated if caught early. In order to prevent oral cancer, you should:
- Stop using tobacco products
- Limit alcohol consumption refrain from binge drinking
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables
- Limit sun exposure and use sunscreen on your skin — including your lips (check your chapstick label)
- Conduct an oral cancer self-exam once every month
- Visit your dentist regularly for dental exams and oral cancer screenings.
Even if you take every preventable measure, you may not notice dangerous spots or sores in your mouth since they can be more difficult to see at home. This is why the American Cancer Society recommends that your dentist check for oral cancer during dental exams. Additionally, maintaining regular dental cleanings and checkups helps keep your mouth healthier and cleaner than brushing and flossing alone.
If you haven’t seen a dentist in six months or more, we encourage you to give us at Apple Valley Dental Group a call to schedule and appointment and a screening. It could just save your life.