April Is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

Cancers of the mouth are more common than you might think.

Oral and oropharnyngeal cancers make up a large group of cancers in the head and neck category. While some think these types of cancers are rare, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 53,000 individuals in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue, tonsil, and throat in 2019. For the past 10 years, there has been a steady increase in the rate of oral cancer, which is expected to continue since there is no national screening policy for these types of cancers in the U.S.

The risk factors remain unchanged. Most oral or oropharnyngeal cancers arise from two sources: alcohol and tobacco use, and exposure to the HPV-16 virus. A small number of people develop oral cancer without any identifiable cause, which leads some to believe genetics might play a role, but there is no research that corroborates this theory.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer typically appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not resolve. According to Web MD, the most common symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Puffiness, thickening, or the presence of lumps, bumps, rough patches, or crustiness inside the mouth, or on the lips or gums
  • Smooth white, red, or white and red blotches visible in the mouth
  • Inexplicable bleeding in the mouth
  • Pain, tenderness, or absence of feeling in areas of the face, mouth, or neck
  • Lesions on the face, neck, or mouth that do not go away after a week or two
  • A sensation that a foreign object is trapped in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or working the tongue or jaw
  • Persistent sore throat, hoarseness, or a voice change
  • Ear pain
  • A change in the way the teeth fit together
  • Significant weight loss

Your dentist will do an oral cancer-screening exam as part of your normal dental examination. If something questionable is found, a biopsy may be necessary to make a definitive oral cancer diagnosis, and your dentist will determine the best course of action.

Importance of Early Detection

When discovered at an early stage, oral cancers can have a favorable survival rate (80 to 90 percent), but unfortunately, most are diagnosed at a relatively late stage, accounting for a fatality rate of about 43 percent five years from diagnosis.

Interestingly, these cancers are not being diagnosed at a late stage because of a lack of symptoms, but instead because of a lack of public awareness, along with the absence of a national screening program that would likely lead to early discovery by medical and dental professionals.

The symptoms of the disease can also be recognized in a monthly self-examination that takes only a few minutes to perform. To do this, you need a handheld mirror, a light source, and a piece of gauze to effectively examine the top, both sides, and underneath of the tongue.

There are all-in-one illuminated tongue depressors on the market that provide lighting inside the mouth, allowing you to use your free hand to grasp the tongue with a piece of gauze.

If you’re not sure about how to conduct a self-exam or find something suspicious, it’s time to turn to a dental professional. To find out more about oral cancer or to schedule an examination with a skilled dental professional, contact Knights Family Dentistry.

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