April doesn’t just mark the time to expect all those flower-producing showers: it’s also oral cancer awareness month – something not a lot of people know about! Oral cancer affects tens of thousands of people each year, and the prognosis is grim: only 57 percent of people diagnosed will make it past the five year mark.
These numbers are frightening and they haven’t become much better over time. Oral cancer is difficult to identify and tends to not show easily visible symptoms until it has already become serious. At Edgewood Dental Care we test for oral cancer when we see you for regular exams, but there’s a lot you need to know about identifying, treating, and avoiding this deadly condition. Hopefully this information never has to save your life, but it very well could!
Oral Cancer: An Invisible Killer
In its early stages oral cancer is completely invisible to the naked eye. This is one of the primary reasons that it’s so rarely diagnosed when it needs to be. While there are a number of physical symptoms that appear as the cancer progresses it’s rare that they get diagnosed before it metastasizes elsewhere in the body.
Regular dental exams include a check for oral cancer, usually a simple visual inspection unless you’re over the age of 40 or have risk factors that increase your chance of developing it. Regular dental checkups every six months can be the difference between a timely diagnosis and very real danger!
Since we do only see you every six months we recommend semi-regular home exams as well. Using a flashlight and dental mirror take a look around your cheeks, gums, under your tongue, and on any surface of your mouth. Keep an eye out for:
- lumps, white raised bumps, discolored spots, and swelling
- white, red, or speckled patches in the mouth (not always raised)
- bleeding that doesn’t appear to be gum disease related
- sores on the face, neck, throat, or lips that bleed and last longer than two weeks
You may also notice some non-visible symptoms as well, including:
- a feeling like something is caught in your throat
- trouble swallowing or speaking
- numbness, tingling, loss of sensation, or pain in your face, neck, or mouth
- a change in your bite or denture position due to swelling
- difficulty moving your tongue or lips
- a hoarse voice
- pain in your ears without an immediate explanation
These kinds of pains and sensations can be terrifying. If you are experiencing any of them make an appointment right away!
Who Gets Oral Cancer?
LIke every health condition, there are habits, lifestyle choices, and uncontrollable factors that all contribute to your chance of developing oral cancer. Not everything is within your control, so be sure that you’re minimizing your risk by cutting out those that are!
Oral cancer is more common in patients who:
- have a family history of cancer of any kind
- use tobacco in any form
- drink heavily
- eat poorly, specifically not enough fruits and vegetables
- spend too much time in the sun
- are carriers of the human papillomavirus (specifically HPV-16)
Minimize your oral cancer risk by adopting a better diet, wearing sun protection (including an SPF-rated lip balm), cutting out tobacco, and minimizing alcohol consumption. It’s also important to regularly check yourself for oral cancer and to get regular professional screenings during a dental checkup!
What Happens When Something Looks Suspicious?
The key with anything that looks like cancer is first and foremost not to panic: a potentially cancerous lesion or a biopsy isn’t a diagnosis! If we notice something in your mouth that might be cancer we’ll probably send a sample off to a lab so that we can determine if you’re at risk.
If you do have oral cancer there are a number of treatments that can reduce or eliminate your cancer. Surgery and radiation treatment are the most common, followed by chemotherapy in cases where patients may have metastasized.
The key thing to remember is that you CAN beat it – oral cancer is survivable, and as time goes on that survival rate will only increase. Better technology, better screening, and advanced treatments will make oral cancer nothing to be scared of!
Prevention Is The Key To Success
The best way to protect yourself from oral cancer is to make sure you stay on top of your oral health, and there’s no better way to do that than with regular preventive checkups. Edgewood Dental Care is ready to see you, so don’t hesitate to call us today!