THIS YEAR ALONE, the American Cancer Society estimates over 54,000 new cases of oral cancer just in the US. When we say “oral cancer,” we’re usually referring to a broad range of cancers affecting various parts of the mouth and throat. While the survival rate of these cancers has been rising in recent decades, we want to help the fight by educating our patients about the symptoms and risk factors this Oral Cancer Awareness Month.
What Are the Risk Factors?
Not all risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of developing oral cancer can be helped. Men, for instance, are twice as vulnerable to the disease as women, and people above the age of 45 are also at a significantly higher risk. Preventative care and early detection are especially important for those with major risk factors.
Fortunately, some risk factors can be controlled. The biggest by far is tobacco use (any kind). Up to 85% of oral cancer cases are linked to using some kind of tobacco. Frequent and heavy alcohol consumption is another avoidable risk factor. Others include too much sun exposure (which can lead to lip cancer), HPV infection, and neglecting daily oral hygiene habits (this is particularly a problem when combined with tobacco use).
Know the Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Sometimes people with no risk factors at all still develop oral cancer, and not everyone with multiple risk factors will end up developing it. We want to make sure our patients are familiar with the symptoms, which include:
- A mouth or lip sore that persists and doesn’t heal
- A strange lump on the lip, mouth, throat, or neck
- Unusual thickness in the cheek
- A numb feeling in the mouth or tongue
- White or red patches inside the mouth
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- The sensation of something stuck in the throat
- Chronic bad breath
The Best Weapon Is Early Detection
The sooner oral cancer can be caught and treated, the better the prognosis is likely to be. We encourage anyone with one or more risk factors to get regular health screenings. These are a great way to detect oral cancer before the above symptoms even appear.
The Dentist Can Help
Another place oral cancer is often caught early on is during regular dental exams. Dentists can check for more than cavities and gum disease. This is just one more reason not to skip that regular dental exam! Staying up to date with the dentist is great for your teeth and for your overall health.