Screening for oral cancer is an integral part of every dental check-up. Like any other cancer screening, it may save your life.
According to the American Dental Association, it’s estimated that nearly 52,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer and cancers of the throat, tonsils and back of the tongue in 2018.
The risk of mouth cancer increases significantly in people who smoke and drink heavily. The sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) has also been associated with throat cancers at the back of the mouth. People who spend a lot of time outdoors are more prone to lip cancer. Poor nutrition or a diet low in fruits and vegetables may increase your chance of developing oral cancer.
Oral cancer has a 90 percent cure rate with early detection. The five-year survival rate is 60 percent.
If oral cancer is discovered early, the cure rate is nearly 90 percent. If the cancer has spread before diagnosis, the 5-year survival rate after treatment is 60 percent. The best outcome is always early diagnosis and treatment.
Getting a 6-month dental check-up is key but self-exams should be done each month.
Using a bright light and mirror, look and feel the front and back of your gums, your lips and the roof of your mouth. Pull your cheeks to see the inside of your mouth including the lining of your cheeks, back gums and the roof of your mouth. Pull your tongue out and check all sides. Check the back of your throat and feel both sides of your neck and lower jaw for lumps. Call your dentist immediately if you see any changes, signs or symptoms.
Even though you may be conducting frequent self-exams, sometimes dangerous spots or sores in the mouth can be very tiny and difficult to see on your own. In the early stages there are no signs or symptoms.
According to the American Cancer Society symptoms include:
- A sore in the mouth that does not heal (most common symptom)
- Pain in the mouth that doesn’t go away (also very common)
- A lump or thickening in the cheek
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
- A sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat that doesn’t go away
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- Trouble moving the jaw or tongue
- Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth
- Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
- Loosening of the teeth or pain around the teeth or jaw
- Voice changes
- A lump or mass in the neck
- Weight loss
- Constant bad breath
Many of these signs and symptoms can also be caused by things other than cancer, or even by other cancers. Still, it is very important to see a doctor or dentist if any of these conditions lasts more than two weeks so the cause can be found and treated, if needed. Treatment depends on the cancer’s location and stage, as well as overall health and personal preferences.
Risk Increases with Age
Oral cancer most often occurs in people over age 40. Occurrence is twice as high in men as it is in women. One in four people with oral cancer had no risk factors.
don’t smoke or use any type of tobacco, drink alcohol in moderation, use sunscreen and keep your diet healthy and colorful. And have a dental check up twice a year.