You have probably heard about oral cancer or may know someone suffering from it. Oral cancer is a type of cancer that affects any part of the oral cavity. It can develop in the mouth or lips and includes the back of the throat or oropharynx.
Oral cancer is more common than you think. Each year, in the United States, more than 21000 men and 9000 women are diagnosed with oral cancer. Most are over 60 years old. In this article, we will discuss oral cancer and what you should know about it, including its medical care. Knowing about the medical care for oral cancer can help patients take an active part in choosing their dentist and the care that they will receive.
Factors that increase your risk of developing oral cancer are:
- Using tobacco products
- Drinking alcohol heavily, more than 4 drinks per day
- Using alcohol and tobacco products together
- Using betel quid
- Eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Spending long periods in the sun, which is associated with lip cancer
- Infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), (which is sexually transmitted)
Oral cancer manifests with various symptoms, some of which are:
- Swellings, thickenings, bumps, or lumps on the lips, gums, and other areas of the mouth
- The development of velvety white, red, or speckled patches in the mouth
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Unexplained numbness, loss of feeling, or pain and tenderness in any area of the face, mouth, or neck
- Sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within two weeks
- A soreness or feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
- Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or change in voice
- Ear pain
- A change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together
- Dramatic weight loss
The most common sites for oral cancer are the bottom and sides of the tongue, as well as the lips. Oral cancer is treated the way many other cancers are treated, with surgery to remove the cancerous growth, followed by radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
At Harbour Pointe Oral Surgery and Advanced Dental Implant Center, we perform an oral cancer screening on every patient at every exam. Studies have shown that about 1 in 80 persons develop early signs of oral cancer throughout their lifetime. If we detect a suspicious area in your mouth, we will submit it for an oral biopsy to know whether it is cancerous or not. This means that a small amount of tissue from the lesion will be submitted to an oral pathologist. The latter will microscopically examine the tissue at a cellular level and determine the diagnosis.
The early diagnosis and prevention of oral cancer is key to a successful outcome. You should use the following strategies to detect oral cancer early in its progression.
1) Self-Examination: You should do this at least once a month. Using a bright light and a mirror, feel your lips and your gums. Also, look at the roof of your mouth. You should also pull your cheeks out to view the inside of your mouth. View your back gums and the lining of your cheeks. Pull out your tongue and look at all of its surfaces. Examine the floor of your mouth and the back of your throat. Check for enlarged lymph nodes in both sides of your neck and under your lower jaw. If you find anything that seems suspicious, visit your dentist for a thorough check-up.
2) Visit your dentist regularly: Even though you may be conducting regular self-exams, tiny sores or spots in your mouth, lips, and tongue may be difficult to detect on your own. The American Cancer Society recommends oral cancer screening exams every 3 years for persons above age 20 and every year for persons age 40 and above. Early detection of oral cancer is key to a successful outcome.
3) Be proactive: At Harbour Pointe Oral Surgery, we work with your dental and medical team in diagnosis and management of benign and malignant tumors. Successful outcomes are based on experience and we work with our patients and their team of dentists, doctors, and pathologists to achieve the best outcome. Do your own research, remember the early symptoms of oral cancer, and let your dentist know if you detect any of the signs and symptoms mentioned in this article.
Now you know a bit more about oral cancer. As mentioned, at Harbour Pointe Oral Surgery, we conduct oral exams for the detection of oral cancer at every visit. If you have a lesion that concerns you, do not hesitate to contact us for an exam soon!