April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. This month is dedicated to giving us as dentists the chance to educate the community on the importance of oral cancer screenings and prevention.
The Dangers of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer kills approximately one person per hour, 24 hours a day, according to research from the Oral Cancer Foundation. Here are some oral cancer facts that support the need for regular screenings. Oral cancer is:
- Almost twice as prevalent in men compared to women.
- Survivable. When detected early, patients have an 83% survival rate or more.
- Known to migrate. When oral cancer is left unchecked, it can spread into the surrounding tissues and organs.
- Not uncommon. Oral cavity cancer is one of the most common cancers of the mouth.
- Able to occur in various locations in the mouth such as: the tongue, tonsils and oropharynx, gums and floor of the mouth.
- Most commonly found in those over the age of 62, but it has been known to affect children in very rare cases.
- More common if you have had oral cancer before. Patients are at risk to develop cancer in nearby areas such as the larynx (voice box), esophagus or the lungs once they have had oral cancer. Continual screenings throughout your life are necessary to monitor your health and prevent cancer in these areas.
- More commonly found in individuals who use tobacco and alcohol. These substances increase the chances for other cancers in patients who have or have had oral cancer.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, refers to cancer that forms inside the mouth. Oftentimes, it can also be grouped into a category called ‘head and neck cancers’. Mayo Clinic explains that this type of cancer can be found on the:
- Inner lining of the cheeks
- Roof of the mouth
- Floor of the mouth (under the tongue)
Signs of Oral Cancer
Possible signs and symptoms detailed by the Oral Cancer Foundation include:
- Tissue changes, red or white patch of tissue in the mouth
- Small indurated ulcers that looks like a common canker sore
- Painless lump or mass felt inside the mouth or neck
- Pain or difficulty when swallowing, speaking, or chewing
- Wart-like masses
- Hoarseness which lasts for a long period of time
- Numbness in the oral cavity or face
- Persistent earache
Preventing Oral Cancer
Mouth cancer is highly preventable and also very treatable when caught early. There are steps you can take to prevent developing mouth cancer, which include:
- Not using tobacco in any form. If you use tobacco products, quit.
- Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
- Stay out of the sun, especially in the middle of the day when the sunlight is most prevalent.
- Always use lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Eat a nutritious diet consisting of a lot of fruit and vegetables.
Oral Cancer Treatment
The key to treating oral cancer is early detection. Have your dentist perform an oral cancer screening when you visit for your regularly scheduled checkup. Further, once a month you should examine your own mouth to look for signs of changes. If you notice an area of concern, contact your dentist.
Treatment for this kind of cancer depends on the location of the cancer, the stage it is in, and your overall medical history. Some patients might only require one type of treatment, while others might need to have a combination of treatments. Common treatments for this type of cancer include:
- Surgery to remove the tumor, cancer that has spread to the neck, or to reconstruct the mouth after cancer removal.
- Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. This treatment is typically delivered after surgery, however, it can be used alone if you have an early stage of the disease.
- Chemotherapy, which is a treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. These drugs can be given alone or in combination with other treatments.
- Targeted drug therapy, which treats the cancer by altering specific aspects of cancer cells that fuel their growth.
- Immunotherapy, which uses your immune system to fight cancer. Sometimes, your body’s immune system may not attack cancer because the cancer cells produce proteins that blind the immune system cells. This therapy interferes with that process.
Make an Appointment with Young Family Dental
To learn more about your risk of developing oral cancer or to have a cancer check, make an appointment with Young Family Dental today.