April is Oral Cancer Awareness month, so we here at Stephens Dentistry are going to do our part to help raise oral cancer awareness. An estimated 8,000 people will die from oral cancer this year. The main reason that mortality rates are so dismal for oral cancer is because it often goes undiscovered. As with most other cancers, age is the primary risk factor for oral cancer. Even though tobacco use is a major predisposing risk factor, 25% of oral cancer victims have no lifestyle risk factors. By learning the signs and symptoms you can help your dental professional diagnose oral cancer in it’s early stages and drastically increase your chances of survival.
There are many different risk factors for oral cancer. The most commonly known is tobacco use, but it is not the only one. Other risk factors include alcohol use, sun exposure, and HPV infection. As you age, you are also at a greater risk for diseases in general, including oral cancer, as your immune system becomes less efficient. Statistics have shown that depending on your race or gender, you may be more likely to develop oral cancer. Some of these are risk factors you can control and some of them are not. Next week will cover what you can do to decrease your risk for oral cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs of oral cancer are not always definitive. If you find something in your mouth that you are unsure of, it is best to see your dentist as soon as possible to have it diagnosed. Some common symptoms include:
- Red or white discolorations in your oral tissues
- A sore in your mouth or on your lip that doesn’t heal within 14 days
- Numbness of your lower lip or chin
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
- Ear pain occurring only on one side
- A lump or thickening in the mouth or on the neck
These are not the only symptoms; they are just the most common. As we said, if you are unsure of a condition in your mouth, contact your dentist as they can take steps to detect if it is oral cancer.
After swishing with a mouth rinse, the technician will look for any suspicious lesions.
Oral Cancer Screenings
There are several different types of oral cancer screening. The oldest and most common is a visual exam that your dentist does once a year. Your dentist will do a visual check of the tissues in your mouth including your lips and tongue. Then they will do a manual check of your throat and neck. At our Evanston dentist office, we offer an advanced oral cancer screening as well. This advanced screening uses a specific light that helps to illuminate lesions better than normal incandescent light. If one of our dentists finds a suspicious area, they can use a dye to further evaluate the area and determine the next steps. Often these abnormalities end up being benign, but it is best to have them checked out early. Our Evanston dentists recommend an advanced oral cancer screening for all of our patients, and especially for those with increased risk factors.
Oral cancer can be a scary thing and rightfully so. About half of people diagnosed with oral cancer will not survive more than five years. This high death rate is due to not diagnosing oral cancer early. The best way for you to protect yourself is to be aware of the symptoms, avoid risk factors, and get an annual oral cancer screening.