April is Oral Cancer month, and we’re joining in the effort to raise public awareness about this overlooked form of cancer. Rates of oral cancer are increasing nationwide, but the disease can be beaten with early intervention. Your dentist can be the first line of defense.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 42,000 people in the US will be diagnosed with oral cancer. That number may seem somewhat small when compared to the overall population, but it marks the fifth year in a row in which there has been an increase in the rate of occurrence of oral cancers.
The good news is that when oral cancer is found at the early stages of development, it has an 80 to 90 percent survival rate. The bad news is that “the majority are found as late stage cancers, and this accounts for the very high death rate of about 43% at five years from diagnosis, and high treatment related morbidity in survivors.”
The Foundation notes that these late stage diagnoses are not occurring because the cancer is hard to find, but rather because of low public awareness.
Watching out for the Symptoms of Oral Cancer
At Lakeshore Family Dentistry, we always conduct a through screening for oral cancer at your annual and/or bi-annual exam. However, you should also be on the look out for oral cancer symptoms. The Foundation lists the following as typical symptoms:
- A sore or lesion in the mouth that does not heal within two weeks.
- A lump or thickening in the cheek.
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth.
- A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat.
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing.
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue.
- Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth.
- Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
- Chronic hoarseness.
While you should watch out for these symptoms on your own, rely on your health care providers to help – particularly your dentist. As the Oral Cancer Foundation notes, “dentists are trained in this simple quick screening, which involves the examination of the oral cavity as a whole and not just your teeth.”
What’s included in an Oral Cancer Screening
An oral cancer screening by your dentist will involve a visual examination of all the tissues in your mouth. We’ll be looking for white patches, red patches, ulcerations, lumps and loose teeth. Your dental x-rays can also reveal abnormalities.
We’ll also feel the floor of your mouth and portions of the back of your throat. We check the lymph nodes in your neck for swelling, and other types of abnormalities such as hardened masses.
Rates of oral cancer are higher for tobacco users of any form, so be sure to let us know if you use tobacco (we can usually figure this out rather quickly if you don’t.)
As it generally the case with cancer, thorough screening and open lines of communication with your health provider are the keys to prevention. Maintaining bi-annual exams with your dentist can be a highly effective way to keep an eye on this rare, but increasing type of cancer.
Please help make your friend and family aware of Oral Cancer during April by sharing a link to this post on your Facebook page!