Nearly 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. And within five years, close to 10,000 of these people will die from a disease that could have otherwise been prevented. Oral cancer is a highly treatable disease if our dentists can catch it early. This is just another reason why it’s crucial that you visit our dental practice once every six months for routine dental exams.
Having an oral cancer screening with our Columbus dentists and hygienists at Capstone Dental is painless and simple. In fact, we include oral cancer screenings in every routine dental exam — it just takes a few minutes! During the screening, we will check your face, neck, lips, tongue, mouth and the back of your throat in order to detect possible signs of oral cancer.
In honor of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, here are some important things that patients should know about oral cancer including, its risk factors, signs and symptoms, and prevention.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer includes cancers that affect any part of the mouth (tongue, gums, lips, cheek lining, hard and soft palate, floor of the mouth), the sinuses, or the back of throat (pharynx). Oral cancer can be life threatening unless you receive an early diagnosis.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
While oral cancer is a preventable disease, you could be at risk for developing any type of oral cancer if:
- You use tobacco or drink alcohol. A majority of oral cancer cases are linked to heavy drinking, cigarette smoking, and chewing tobacco. There is also a much greater risk of developing oral cancer if you use alcohol and tobacco simultaneously.
- You are older than 55. Your risk for developing oral cancer increases with age. Oral cancer is most commonly found in patients who are over the age of 40.
- You have HPV. Certain high risk types of sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) have been linked to oral cancers.
- You are exposed to the sun excessively. If you spend long periods of time in direct sunlight, you could develop lip cancer.
- Your immune system is weak. Certain medications can weaken your immune system and put you at a higher risk for oral cancer.
- You have an unhealthy diet. If you eat unhealthy meals that are low in good-for-you fruits and vegetables, it can put you at risk for developing oral cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Common signs and symptoms of oral cancer can include any of the following:
- Bumps, lumps, sores, rough spots, crusts, swelling or thickening of areas found inside your mouth, your throat, or on your lip.
- Velvety white, red, or speckled patches in the mouth.
- A feeling that something may be caught in your throat — and it doesn’t go away.
- Unexplained bleeding inside your mouth, or persistent sores on your face, neck or mouth that do not heal within two weeks time.
- Unexplained numbness or pain in any area of your face, mouth, or neck.
- Difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue.
- Swelling in your jaw.
- Your dentures are ill fitting, or your teeth don’t fit together properly.
- You have a chronic sore throat, persistent hoarseness, or a change in your voice.
- Ear pain in just one ear that does not result in hearing loss.
- Excessive weight loss.
If you have any of these signs or symptoms of oral cancer for two weeks or more, contact our dental practice immediately to schedule an oral cancer exam. It’s important to know that all of these symptoms do not necessarily point to oral cancer. Sometimes infections or other oral health issues can cause similar signs and symptoms. However, it’s imperative to get an exam in order to either rule out cancer, or catch the disease in its earliest stages for a better prognosis.
Oral Cancer Prevention
Oral cancer can be easily treated if caught early. In order to prevent oral cancer, you should:
- Stop using tobacco products (chewing tobacco, cigarettes);
- Only drink alcohol moderately if you must drink and refrain from binge drinking;
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables;
- Limit sun exposure and use UV-A/B-blocking sunscreen on your skin — including your lips;
- Conduct an oral cancer self-exam once every month;
- Visit your dentist regularly for dental exams and oral cancer screenings.
Even if you take every preventable measure, you may not notice dangerous spots or sores in your mouth since they can be more difficult to see at home. This is why the American Cancer Society recommends that your dentist check for oral cancer during dental exams.
Oral Cancer Treatment
If one of our dentists finds that you do have oral cancer, treatment is fairly similar to how other cancers are treated. Sometimes surgery will be required in order to remove oral cancer. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both are also typically used to get rid of any cancer cells that may be left behind.
Remember: The above information points SHOULD NOT be used to diagnose yourself. If you think you may have oral cancer, contact our Columbus, Ohio dentists for a complete, professional dental exam.
Oral Cancer Screenings in Clintonville & Columbus Ohio
Oral cancer does not have to be a life-threatening disease and if diagnosed and treated early, the survival rate is a good one. Contact our skilled dentists in Clintonville for an oral cancer exam today.