Get Screened Early for Signs of Oral Cancer
What is oral cancer?
Each year, oral cancer and oropharyngeal cancer claim the lives of over 11,000 individuals. Though by far not the deadliest of cancers, these statistics aren’t ones to take lightly. Thankfully, this type of cancer can be largely avoided with proper screenings and prevention strategies. And if you do receive a cancer of the mouth diagnosis, an early diagnosis means a substantially higher survival rate.
Oral cancer is a relatively broad term that accounts for cancers in the mouth and the back of the throat. This type of cancer develops on or under the tongue or at the base of the tongue, on the tissues that line the mouth and gums, or on the throat area at the back of the mouth. Cancer that can largely be prevented with good health habits and proper oral hygiene; mouth cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States each year.
Most people diagnosed with oral cancer are over 40 years of age. About twice as many men as women receive an oral cancer diagnosis each year, and in most cases, the cancer is related to the use of tobacco products, alcohol, or human papillomavirus (HPV).
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
In most cases, oral cancer will appear as a persistent growth or sore in the mouth. However, the most common signs and symptoms of oral cancer can also include:
- Lumps or bumps, swellings or thickenings, spots, or crusted or eroded areas on the lips, gums, inside of the cheek, or other areas within the mouth.
- White, red, or speckled patches on a velvety texture in the mouth.
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth.
- Loss of feeling, unexplained numbness, or pain and tenderness of the face, mouth, or neck.
- Sores on the face, mouth, or neck that do not heal or go away on their own within 14 days.
- Swelling or pain in the jaw.
- Discomfort when wearing dentures that were previously not bothersome.
- A change in the way teeth or dentures fit together.
- A feeling as though something is stuck in the back of the throat and won’t go away.
- Difficulty swallowing, speaking, chewing, or moving the tongue or jaw.
- Vocal hoarseness, persistent sore throat, or an unexplained change in the tone of the voice.
- Pain in the ears that is not explained by an ear infection.
- Unexplained dramatic weight loss.
If you have one or more of the above signs or symptoms, you must have a health assessment with your physician or dentist as soon as possible.
Tips for the Prevention of Oral Cancer
Our oral health routines tend to focus on brushing, flossing, rinsing with a fluoridated mouthwash, and visiting our dentist every six months. And while good oral hygiene and regular dental checkups are critical to our oral health, the following tactics are also important.
- Avoid the use of tobacco products.
- Consume alcohol in moderation. Consumption of 3.5 or more alcoholic beverages per day increases your risk for oral cancer.
- Get vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Use a lip balm with sunscreen when you are outdoors for any extended period of time.
- See your dentist once every six months.
How to Get Screened for Oral Cancer
The best way to fight oral cancer is to ensure early detection. And the best way to ensure early detection is by visiting your dentist for a dental cleaning and oral examination every six months. During your oral examination, your dentist will check for any irregularities that could indicate the presence of oral cancer.
During the oral cancer screening, your dentist will look at the inside of your mouth to check for those velvety white, red, or speckled patches mentioned above. Dr. Oxley will also check the tissues in your mouth for lumps or anything that seems out of the ordinary. We will also check your throat and neck for lumps.
If oral cancer is suspected or detected, a follow-up visit will be scheduled for a few weeks out. During this visit, the abnormal area will be assessed to check for growth or any changes. A biopsy procedure will likely take place to remove a sample of cells to be sent to an offsite lab where testing will occur to see if cancer cells are present. In some cases, Dr. Oxley will perform the biopsy. However, in more severe cases, it may be recommended that you see a doctor who specializes in oral cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Treatment for Oral Cancer
If you are diagnosed with oral cancer, your dentist will refer you to an oncologist to discuss various treatment options with you. In most cases, patients are treated with surgery or radiation. In some cases, chemotherapy is used in conjunction with radiation. Surgery and radiation both work well in the treatment of oral cancer, but the choice of which treatment to pursue depends on your personal health situation. When determining the right treatment for you, be sure to consider your preferences and potential short-term and long-term side effects.
The Importance of Early Oral Cancer Detection
The earlier that your oral cancer is detected, the higher your chances are for a five-year or longer survival rate. Not only that, but early diagnosis can mean a less aggressive treatment. So if you have one or more of the above-mentioned symptoms or if you are overdue for a dental cleaning and oral examination in New Bern, NC, now is the time to request an appointment with Oxley Comprehensive Dental. Dr. Oxley, your New Bern family dentist, is well trained in the early detection of oral cancer and will conduct an oral cancer screening as part of your oral examination.
Don’t delay. Come and see us today.