We normally don’t like discussing cancer in our dental blog, but April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month.
We believe it’s worth taking a little time to discuss oral cancer symptoms and risk factors with you. We perform oral cancer screenings as a part of our routine dental exams at our Modesto, CA office.
While we don’t treat oral cancer here, we know that early detection can make treatment much more effective. While we hope we never find anything, we would rather find it as early as possible.
If you would like to request an appointment with an oral cancer screening, please call Sierra Dental Care at (209) 846-3961.
Numbers to Know
Sadly, one person dies every hour from oral cancer in the U.S.
More than 51,000 people will be diagnosed with some form of oral cancer this year in the United States, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.
Men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer.
Approximately $3.2 billion is spent across America on oral cancer treatments annually.
The good news is that the survival rate is between 80 and 90 percent when oral cancer is detected early. This makes routine dental checkups even more important.
Symptoms: What You Should Look For
Many symptoms of oral cancer are things you may notice on your own. If you see them, it may be a good idea to get schedule an exam as well. Keep an eye out for the following:
- White and red patches on the soft tissues of your mouth
- Sores that bleed easily but don’t seem to heal
- Feeling hoarse or having a persistent sore throat
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- A lump in the soft tissues of your mouth or in your neck
The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons also has a few tips if you do a self-exam. Remove your dentures (if you have them). Look and feel your lips and the front of your gums. Pull back your cheeks so you can see the insides as well. Stick out or pull out your tongue so you can examine it on all sides.
Risk Factors You Should Know
Anyone can develop oral cancer, but some things make you more likely to develop this disease.
Tobacco use is far and away the single biggest risk factor for oral cancer (as well as a number of other cancers). It doesn’t matter how you use tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco all will increase your risk of oral cancer.
In a study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, researchers found that 8 in 10 oral cancer patients were or had been tobacco users.
Heavy alcohol use also can raise your risk of developing oral cancer. The Oral Cancer Foundation defined heavy use as 21 or more drinks per week.
Using both alcohol and tobacco will greatly increase your odds of developing oral cancer as you get older. (Coincidentally, there is research to suggest that quitting alcohol and tobacco also reduces your risk of oral cancer compared to active drinkers and smokers.)
HPV (the human papilloma) is the most common sexually transmitted disease with the CDC estimating that 80 percent of people will contract this virus during their lives. In most people, HPV has no noticeable effects. However, for a small segment of the population, a few strains HPV have the potential to cause oral and other cancers.
There is a vaccine for HPV 16 and 18, but it only works if a patient receives it before they have the virus. This is why health experts recommend getting the vaccine around age 11 or 12. (Talk to your family doctor if you have questions about this.)
Get Checked, Stay Healthy
There’s a saying that it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is why we encourage patients to be proactive about their oral health.
During routine dental exams, we are looking for cavities and gum disease, but as you’ve learned we’re also watching for something far more serious.