According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, oral cancer has an above-average rate of fatality when compared to other forms of cancer. Not because it isn’t a treatable or curable disease, but partly because it is not typically diagnosed until the disease has had time to advance. Proactive efforts to learn more about the condition can be your greatest protection.
Early Warning Signs
Oral cancer can develop anywhere in the mouth, including the tongue, lips, throat, soft palate and cheeks, as well as within the facial and neck area. Here are some of the cautionary symptoms to look for:
- Prolonged sore throat that doesn’t respond to treatment
- Excessive mouth bleeding, where gingivitis has been ruled out
- Declined tongue or jaw mobility that affects the ability to speak or eat
- Numbness or pain in any area of the mouth or face
- Thickening or swelling of the tissue inside in the mouth
- Red or white patches on the gums that are soft to the touch
- Significant teeth shifting
- A feeling of a large lump in throat
Any of these signs should prompt a visit to a dental professional for further examination.
Oral cancer cells can develop in anyone, but there are individuals who are at an increased risk for developing the disease. At the head of this list are those who use tobacco products, including cigarettes, pipes and chewing tobacco. People in this group make up 85% of all those diagnosed.
Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to an elevated risk. Gender is also a factor, as men are more likely to develop the disease than women. People who are over the age of 45 may also face a greater risk. Having an underlying health concern, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) or a weakened immune system can also be a danger.
The presence of possible symptoms and an elevated risk may prompt a more urgent need for oral cancer screenings, but screenings are equally important for people who don’t fit within this scenario. They are key to an early diagnosis and faster treatment.
While a thorough procedure, the screening process is painless and quick; it involves an examination of the face, jaw, neck and mouth. Many dentists perform screenings as part of a regular dental checkup, so keeping up with these exams is important. Should a discovery be made, a biopsy generally will be ordered to provide an official diagnosis.
If a biopsy confirms the presence of cancer cells, there are several treatment options available. The location of the cancer, stage of advancement and current health status of the individual are some of the factors that go into the treatment-selection process. However, a typical course of treatment will begin with the surgical removal of the cancerous cells.
This process is followed up with a course of chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of the two. These treatments will continue until any remaining cells have been eliminated, so the number of treatments necessary may vary between individuals.
Speaking with a Provider
Providers serve as a first line of defense. When speaking with a provider, it’s important to ask questions about risk factors, concerns about signs and symptoms not visible and any effective prevention methods that can be practiced. The goal is to have all questions answered, to ensure greater confidence.
Education and routine dental visits aren’t merely suggestions. They are critical to maintaining good oral health, reducing cancer risks and receiving prompt treatment, when necessary. A discussion with a Parke & Rogers Dentistry provider is a step in the right direction.