We are all familiar with pink highlighting the importance of breast cancer awareness month (and men are encouraged to be screened for prostate cancer), but when was the last time you were checked for oral cancer? This month is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and at Dental Health Associates, we are committed to getting the word out and checking all of our patients as part of a regular dental visit. Early detection is important for treating oral cancer, and your dentist can help.
WHAT IS ORAL CANCER AND WHO IS AT RISK?
Oral cancer is cancer that develops in any part of the mouth, lips, or the back part of the throat (oropharynx). Each year, an estimated 54,000 Americans – mostly over 60 years old—are diagnosed with oral cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. In addition, oral cancer kills more Americans than cervical cancer, malignant melanoma or Hodgkin’s disease.
While anyone can develop cancer at any age, those at highest risk for developing oral cancer fall into these categories:
- Over 40 years old
- Use tobacco products – including cigarettes and chewing tobacco
- Heavy alcohol use
- Combine alcohol and tobacco – these create a greater risk combined than by using either one alone
- A family history of oral cancer
- Extensive sun exposure, which increases the likeliness of developing lip cancer
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
SYMPTOMS OF ORAL CANCER
- White or red patches in the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Loose teeth
- Numbness of lower lip
- Problems moving the jaw or tongue
- A consistent feeling that something is stuck in the throat
- A sore, irritation, or lump in the mouth, lip, or throat
Your dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening by examining your throat, the inside of your cheeks and lips, and the roof of your mouth at a regular dental cleaning and evaluation visit. However, if you have noticed any of these symptoms alone or in any combination, reach out to your dentist and primary care doctor as soon as possible. It’s better to eliminate the more serious possibilities early in order to get to the root cause behind your symptoms. Additionally, it’s much better to rule out cancer as a possibility or treat it quickly if it’s discovered.
DON’T WAIT IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS
Early detection is vital. One of the reasons oral cancer has a low (5-year) survival rate when compared to other major cancers is because many cancerous lesions are not diagnosed until they are in an advanced stage. However, if detected early, the survival rate for oral cancer is better than that of most cancers.
To perform a self-screening or learn more about potential symptoms, the Oral Cancer Foundation has created a website called CheckYourMouth.org.
While use of tobacco products remains a high risk factor for oral cancer, the disease has seen an increased prevalence among young, non-smokers due to oropharyngeal (throat) cancers related to the HPV virus.
For more information about Oral Cancer Awareness Month, visit the Oral Cancer Foundation.
About Dental Health Associates
At Dental Health Associates of Madison we are here to support you and your overall health and we create a personalized treatment plan for each and every patient. All of our dentists and staff will always be open and honest with you about your dental health, with a focus on preventative treatments and patient education. We’d love to schedule an appointment for you today!