Cancer is a potentially life-threatening disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue. Oral cancer may specifically affect parts of the mouth such as the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor, hard and soft palate, pharynx (throat), or even surrounding areas like the sinuses. If not caught early, cancer is deadly; however, early diagnosis may lead to a full recovery.
According to the American Cancer Society, men over 50 are at greatest risk for contracting the disease. Men are also twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer, but the disease may affect persons of both sexes and at any age.
Other risk factors include:
- Smoking: Smoking greatly increases the risk of developing oral cancer. Smokers are six times more likely to develop the disease than nonsmokers.
- Smokeless tobacco users: If you regularly chew tobacco, or use dip or snuff, you are 50 times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-users.
- Excessive use of alcohol: There is a strong scientific consensus linking excessive alcohol drinking and oral cancer. This risk is multiplied when a person smokes in addition to regularly overdrinking.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. In recent years, it has also become a leading cause of certain types of oral cancer.
- Excessive sun exposure: Unprotected exposure to the sun increases the chances of developing lip cancer.
- Genetics: A family history that includes oral cancer indicates an increased risk to develop the disease.
Signs and Symptoms
Those who have developed oral cancer may suffer from one or more of the following symptoms:
- Lesions, bumps or sores in the mouth or surrounding areas
- Colored (white or red) or speckled patches in the mouth
- Unexplained bleeding
- Facial numbness, tenderness, and/or pain, also in the mouth or surrounding areas
- Throat soreness or pain
- Chewing, swallowing or speaking becomes difficult
- Hoarseness or alterations in the voice
- Ear pain
Diagnosis and Treatment
When your dentist performs a routine dental exam, he or she will also perform an oral cancer screening. Through both visual and tactile inspection, your dentist will look for lumps or irregularities in the mouth and surrounding areas. If your dentist discovers anything suspicious, he or she may run a series of tests to see what can be learned. At times, samples may be sent to a laboratory for further testing.
In the case that cancer is found, your dentist and doctor will work together to develop an effective treatment plan. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be used to combat the disease. With early discovery, patients have an excellent chance of survival.
You can greatly reduce your risk of developing oral cancer by making certain lifestyle choices, including:
- Avoiding tobacco use
- Avoiding excessive use of alcohol
- Eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet
- Limiting sun exposure
- Unprotected sexual activity
In fact, why not make an appointment today? At the Case Dental Group, we’re happy to assist you in maintaining excellent oral and overall health.