People often visit medical and dental practitioners when they feel or notice that something’s not right with their body – which is a good practice. However, getting screened for certain diseases like oral cancer is even better because some serious conditions can easily be treated if they are caught in the early stages.
And there’s not much chatter outside of tobacco use when it comes to oral cancer. Most people don’t know what to look for. Do you?
The Details of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is actually a broad term that includes many kinds of cancer. There are two main groups for what people refer to as oral cancer: oral and oropharyngeal.
All of the cancers (mouth, tongue, tonsil, and throat) occur either in the mouth itself, the back of the throat, or the exterior of the mouth. It’s when a cell’s DNA mutates and develops abnormal cells. These cells pile on top of one another and form tumors.
Since there aren’t any typical screening procedures put into place, oral cancer is usually caught too late. You’re supposed to have oral cancer screenings starting at around the age of 18. And if you smoke? Well, you should be screened whenever you start, and more often.
Causes of oral cancer
There are a couple of known causes of oral cancer:
- Using tobacco
- HPV-16 virus
A small percentage of people develop oral cancer for no known cause. That may be due to genetics or some kind of other unidentified environmental cause. Either way, the number is less than 10 percent.
Minimize your risk of developing oral cancer by eliminating tobacco and alcohol use. If you use tobacco, alcohol, or if you have the HPV-16 virus, get regular screenings for oral cancer from your dentist.
Finding oral cancer
Even if you eliminate possible triggers for developing this type of cancer, there’s still that small percentage of people who will develop it for an unknown reason. Because of this, everyone should be screened.
Finding oral cancer early raises the survival rate to 80 or 90 percent. That’s huge considering the very high fatality rate that exists at this time for a diagnosis. When oral cancer is discovered in the late stages, the long term prognosis is 43 percent morbidity within 5 years.
But here’s the thing: Screening for these cancers is simple. You and your dentist can look for abnormalities in and around your mouth. You’re looking for anything out of the ordinary, and especially sores that won’t heal. Screening in and around the throat is a bit more difficult to see.
The most common way a screener can see abnormal cells is with a special blue light, which helps to visually separate the normal from the abnormal.
If you have any of the risk factors, make sure you let your dentist know so they can keep a sharper eye out in your case.
Look for the signs
You might not be able to see oral cancer all the time, but you might have symptoms that will give you a clue. In order to read those clues, you need to know what to look for.
Keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Sores in or around the mouth that don’t heal
- Loose teeth
- Pain in your mouth, ears, or throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- A lump or a growth in your mouth
- White or red patch inside your mouth
- Numbness anywhere in or around your mouth
These are also some of the things your dentist will be looking for at your regular six-month checkups. Yet another reason why seeing your dentist for checkups and cleanings is so important. They have a vantage point that you couldn’t possibly see.
Treatment for oral cancer
If the dentist suspects that you have oral cancer, they will want to take a biopsy to confirm.
Once confirmed, you will likely need the cancer surgically removed. That is typically followed by either radiation, chemotherapy, or both.
As we stated above, it’s essential that you catch oral cancer early. Doing so will increase your chances of survival. It will also increase your chance of eradicating the disease completely.
An Ounce of Prevention
You’ve probably heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That means preventing something from occurring in the first place is preferred and a lot easier than trying to cure something that has taken a foothold.
Here’s a fact: You can’t always prevent cancer. As hard as that is to hear, it’s true.
But the good news is, you can give your mouth a fighting chance, and it starts at home. The first thing you want to do is brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss once a day, and use mouthwash once a day. Your oral health is essential.
The most important thing you can do to lessen your chance of developing oral cancer is to stop smoking, quit or severely limit alcohol consumption, and limit your sun exposure. When you’re out in the sun, use a lip balm with SPF protection. Remember, your lips are sensitive, and people forget to protect them from the sun.
And above all, come by Your Caring Dentist Group for a screening. You want to visit your dentist every six months for a professional cleaning and exam. We have the training and will be able to see things that you can’t.
Do you look for the signs of cancer in and around your mouth? When was your last dental appointment? Tell us all about it in the comments!