We are open - safety is our top priority!
Posted on: November 21, 2022
What is Oral (Mouth) Cancer?
Every hour, all day long, someone dies of oral cancer in the United States. If oral cancer is detected and treated early, the survival rate could increase. If mouth cancer is diagnosed early, the overall five-year survival rate is 85%. Unfortunately, less than 30% of mouth cancers are diagnosed early. This is obviously an excellent reason to devote an entire month to oral cancer awareness. The survival rate is low because the cancer isn’t caught early. Regular oral cancer screenings are the easiest way to catch oral cancer early., yet early detection remains low because some people don’t have regular dental checkups.
Mouth Cancer Action Month, the Mouth Cancer Foundation and the Oral Health Foundation, hopes to increase awareness of the signs and risk factors of oral cancer, as well as increasing the survival rate. The effects of oral cancer can be severe can cause problems with speaking, eating, breathing and more. It can also cause facial disfigurement.
Do your best to celebrate mouth Cancer Action month by learning everything you can about mouth cancer and making sure you get screened regularly.
What are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
The symptoms of oral cancer include:
- A sore in your mouth or on your lip that will not heal in several weeks
- Red or whitish patches
- Unexplained pain or numbness of your oral cavity
- Pain chewing or swallowing
- Constant earaches in both ears
- Voice changes
You can look for these signs yourself between dental checkups. They can occur anywhere in your oral cavity, including the roof of your mouth, the lining of your cheeks, under your tongue, your gums and everywhere else in your mouth. If you notice any of these signs, please call our dentist in Shelton for a screening.
Why Do People Get Mouth Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, men, especially older men, are more likely to develop oral cancer. This is most likely because of lifestyle habits.
People who smoke cigarettes, cigars and pipes are six times more likely to develop oral cancer. Individuals who use smokeless tobacco, like chewing tobacco, are 20 times more likely to develop oral cancer. Add excessive alcohol use, and the risk is even greater. People who have more than three and a half drinks a day have a two to three times greater risk of developing mouth cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.
There are other risk factors, including the HPV virus, a poor diet and a family history of oral cancer. HPV-related cancers are becoming increasing common, especially in the tonsils the base of the tongue. There isn’t much a person can do about genetics, but diets rich in Vitamin A and antioxidants, often found in fruits and vegetables, can help lower a person’s risk of oral cancer, as well as a variety of other cancers.
Studies have also suggested that individuals with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk. People can also get oral cancer even if they have no known risk factors. Therefore, regular screenings are so important.
Age is also a risk factor. While HPV-related cancers occur in younger adults, most oral cancers from tobacco and alcohol use take years to form. Most oral cancers are diagnosed in people over age 55, with the average age being 63.
Poorly fitting dentures can also be a risk factor. While dentures alone cannot cause oral cancer, ones that do not fit properly can trap cancer-causing agents, like those found in tobacco, under the appliance. Mot removing dentures every night and thoroughly cleaning your mouth can also help keep these particles trapped in your mouth.
Who Diagnoses Oral Cancer?
Typically, your dentist will do a thorough examination of your oral cavity during your regular exam. If they find anything suspicious, like a sore in your mouth, they may ask you how long it has been there. If you don’t know, they may ask you to come back in two to three weeks. Otherwise, your dentist may do a brush biopsy. If this comes back positive, your dentist will most likely send you to a dental specialist for more diagnostic testing.
Successful treatment depends on an accurate diagnosis, including what stage the cancer is in. Other diagnostic tools include z-rays, CAT scans, and incisional biopsies. If you have oral cancer, your dentist or doctor will tell you the stage. Roman numerals I through IV are used to determine the stages. The lowest stage, stage I, means the cancer is confined to one area. The higher numerals mean the cancer has spread. Your treatment options are determined by the stage.
How Do Dentists Treat Oral Cancer?
There are four main treatment options for oral cancer: chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy and medications. Dentists rarely treat oral cancer instead, they refer their patients after a diagnosis to appropriate specialists. They may also coordinate care between the specialist medical and dental professionals. You may see oncologists, oral surgeons and others. The treatment you receive depends on the type and stage of oral cancer you have, your overall health and your preferences.
If you’re a tobacco use, quitting before treatment begins is essential. If you continue to use tobacco products, treatment will not be as successful. It will also make it more difficult to heal after treatment. Continued tobacco use also makes it more likely oral cancer will reoccur. Naturally, the stress of being diagnosed with oral cancer will make it harder to quit, but it’s vital you find a program that will work for you.
Is Oral Cancer Preventable?
Mostly yes, although it is possible to develop mouth cancer having none of the known risk factors. Making good lifestyle choices can greatly reduce your risk, though. Stop using tobacco products. It’s the best thing you can do, even if you’ve been using them for years. This includes all types of tobacco. Your dentist can give you tips for smoking cessation. Avoid heavy drinking, too. You can also get the HPV vaccine.
If you work outside or have higher than average sun exposure, wear a lip balm with at least an SPF 30 sunscreen in it. Also use protective lip balm if you use a tanning bed.
Early detection is the key to surviving oral cancer. Call our dentist in Shelton for an exam with a screening today.