Every April the medical and dental communities like to draw attention to oral cancer. It’s frequently overlooked, yet still has one of the highest mortality rates for a non-essential organ cancer. The danger posed by oral cancer is great, and part of that danger is due to the fact that most of us know little about it.
At 7 O’Clock Dental we take oral cancer seriously. Each exam we perform includes an oral cancer screening so that we can identify it early and treat it more successfully. The overwhelming majority of oral cancer survivors do so because it’s caught before it’s serious!
The Signs And Symptoms Of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer doesn’t always show physical symptoms, and they often aren’t noticeable until it has already started to spread. That’s one of the reasons that the five-year mortality rate is nearly 50 percent! While we screen for oral cancer during each routine exam we’re not always there to notice every symptom you may have.
Many oral cancer symptoms aren’t even visible. Some are just sensations or changes that only you can really notice. No one knows your mouth better than you do, which makes monthly self-screenings for oral cancer important.
Once a month you should use a dental mirror and a flashlight to take a look around your mouth. Be sure to check all the soft tissue, including under your tongue, for any physical irregularities. Typical visible signs of oral cancer include:
- Raised areas that are white, red, or speckled
- Bumps, rashes, sores, or indentations in tissue
- Swelling and/or thickening of oral tissue
- Crusty spots or sores that last longer than two weeks
- Bleeding in the mouth that can’t be identified
- Sores on your face, lips, or neck that last longer than two weeks
Knowing these signs and identifying them early can be the difference between which 50 percent you fall into: those who survive for more than five years or those who don’t. But don’t be surprised if you don’t see any physical symptoms. Many oral cancer sufferers never notice anything visually, but they still report some symptoms that can’t be seen. Those could be any of the following:
- A change in the way your teeth fit together or your dentures sit
- Numbness, loss of sensation, or tingling in your face, neck, or mouth
- Pain in one or both ears that isn’t accompanied by hearing loss
- The feeling that something is caught in your throat
- Hoarseness when speaking, or trouble speaking
- Difficulty chewing, speaking, or moving your tongue
- Persistent sore throat
In many cases the difference between diagnosis and never being caught is the symptoms you can’t see. If you’re experiencing any of the problems listed above you should make an appointment with us or your doctor right away.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
Like any other disease, oral cancer has a number of risk factors that can increase your chances of developing it. In this case there are a number of things that you can control – oral cancer is very preventable with the right lifestyle choices and habits!
- Smokers are six times more likely to develop oral cancer.
- Smokeless tobacco users are 50 times more likely to develop oral cancer.
- Drinking heavily increases your odds the same as smoking. Interestingly enough, around 70 percent of oral cancer sufferers are heavy drinkers.
- A diet that doesn’t contain enough fruits and vegetables has been shown to increase oral cancer risks.
- Spending too much time out in the sun makes oral cancer more possible, especially on the lips.
- A family history of any kind of cancer increases your risks
- If you have the human papillomavirus, specifically strain HPV-16, your chances are greatly increased.
The only way to truly minimize your oral cancer risks is to stop drinking, cut out tobacco, eat properly, and limit unprotected sun exposure. These changes can truly minimize your risk, so don’t hesitate to make some serious changes for your health!
Regular dental checkups are also recommended. If we see you every six months we’ll be able to check your mouth for the most subtle changes and make an oral cancer diagnosis earlier. Only through early diagnosis can you truly avoid succumbing to this deadly form of cancer, so don’t take chances!
Get Screened Today!
In honor of oral cancer month we invite you to make an appointment at our New Orleans office as soon as possible. We’d love to give you a clean bill of oral health!