April Is Oral Cancer Awareness Month – Be Sure to Get a Regular Screening at Personal Care Dentistry
Nearly 50,000 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer this year. While alcohol, smoking and tobacco use are still major risk factors, the fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients is young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals due to the connection to the HPV virus. This virus is the same one which is responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers in women. A small percentage of people (under 7 %) do get oral cancers from no currently identified cause. It is currently believed that these are likely related to some genetic predisposition.
Screening is the best hope of reducing the death rate from this disease.
Oral cancer is the largest group of those cancers which fall into the head and neck cancer category. Common names for it include such things as mouth cancer, tongue cancer, tonsil cancer, and throat cancer. For more than a decade there has been an increase in the rate of occurrence of oral and oropharyngeal cancers.
When found at early stages of development, oral cancers have an 80% to 90% survival rate. Unfortunately, at this time the majority are found as late stage cancers, and this accounts for the very high death rate of about 43% at five years from diagnosis (for all stages and types combined at time of diagnosis). Late-stage diagnosis is not occurring because most of these cancers are hard to discover (though some like HPV origin disease have unique discovery issues). Rather, it is because of a lack of public awareness coupled with the lack of a national program for screenings which would yield early discovery by medical and dental professionals. Worldwide the problem is far greater, with new cases annually exceeding 640,000.
Signs of Oral Cancer
Mouth cancer can appear in different forms and can affect all parts of the mouth, tongue and lips.
Mouth cancer can appear as a painless mouth ulcer that does not heal normally. A white or red patch in the mouth can also develop into a cancer. It is important to visit your dentist if these areas do not heal within three weeks.
How to Detect Oral Cancer Early
Mouth cancer can often be spotted in its early stages by your dentist during a thorough mouth examination. If mouth cancer is recognized early, then the chances of a cure are good. Many people with mouth cancer go to their dentist or doctor too late.
The dentist examines the inside of your mouth and your tongue with the help of a small mirror. Remember, your dentist is able to see parts of your mouth that you cannot see easily yourself.
If your dentist finds something unusual they will refer you to a consultant at the local hospital, who will carry out a thorough examination of your mouth and throat. A small sample of the cells may be gathered from the area (a biopsy), and these cells will be examined under the microscope to see what is wrong.
If the cells are cancerous, more tests will be carried out. These may include overall health checks, blood tests, x-rays or scans. These tests will decide what course of treatment is needed.
If mouth cancer is spotted early, the chances of a complete cure are good, and the smaller the area or ulcer the better the chance of a cure.
However, too many people come forward too late, because they do not visit their dentist for regular examinations.
How to Keep a Healthy Mouth
It is important to visit your dentist regularly, as often as they recommend, even if you wear dentures. This is especially important if you smoke and drink alcohol.
- When brushing your teeth, look out for any changes in your mouth, and report any red or white patches, or ulcers, that have not cleared up within three weeks.
- When exposed to the sun, be sure to use a good protective sun screen, and put the correct type of barrier cream on your lips.
- A good diet, rich in vitamins A, C and E, provides protection against the development of mouth cancer. Plenty of fruit and vegetables help the body to protect itself, in general, from most cancers.
- Cut down on your smoking and drinking.
Sources: OralCancer.org, MouthCancer.org