Cancer: no one likes to hear that word. No matter the kind of cancer we all assume the worst, and with good reason. Most everyone knows someone who has had cancer, or someone who’s life has been affected by it. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in America, and oral cancer is one of the more dangerous types!
Screening for oral cancer is a standard part of what we do at Really Smile Dentistry. We want to take every opportunity to prevent the progression of this dangerous form of cancer, and we can only do that by successfully preventing it in patients like you.
While we can screen for cancer at our office that’s not always enough to put your mind at ease. If you want to be sure you stay healthy you need to know how to minimize your risks and what to look out for.
Oral Cancer: A Risk You Don’t Have To Take
It’s impossible to completely eliminate cancer risks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce them to the lowest point possible. Plenty of cancers spread because of lifestyle choices or habits that we develop, and cutting those out is the best way to reduce the cancer risks that you can control.
If you want to reduce your risks as greatly as possible you need to change the following habits.
- Tobacco smoking is the most common causes of lung cancer, and it’s pretty bad for your mouth too. Smokers increase their risks of developing oral cancer by six times that of non-smokers.
- Smoking doesn’t hold a candle to the risks posed by smokeless tobacco use. Dippers, chewers, and snussers are multiplying their risks by about 50 times!
- Heavy drinkers don’t fair much better than smokers – their risks are increased around six times as well, and around 70 percent of oral cancer patients drink heavily.
- A poor diet, particularly one that leaves out essential fruits and vegetables, has been linked to increased chances of oral cancer. Just another reason to eat well!
- Excess sun exposure, especially when young, is linked to skin cancer and oral cancer! The lips are just as delicate as the rest of your skin, and if cancer starts there it quickly spreads into your mouth.
These are the things you can control, so be sure not to end up developing cancer because of a factor you could have managed! Uncontrollable factors exist as well, and there isn’t always a lot you can do about those.
- A family history of any form of cancer puts you in a higher risk category. Oral cancer could easily end up being what affects you, especially if you have any other risk factors along with a family history.
- The human papillomavirus, or HPV, comes in several different forms. HPV-16 is one of the most dangerous, causing around 70 percent of diagnosed cervical cancer cases. It’s also a major risk factor for oral cancer as well, both in men and women.
What To Watch For
There are a number of things we keep an eye out for when we do an oral cancer exam at our Carmel office. We recommend that you keep an eye on every bit of your mouth – especially the areas under your tongue – and perform a self check once a month. Watch for:
- discolored spots (either white, red, or speckled)
- sores, crusty spots, or oozy wounds that last more than two weeks
- unexplained bleeding in your mouth
- raised, bumpy, lumpy, or eroded spots
- sores on your lips, neck, chin, or face that last more than two weeks
There are also a number of non-visible symptoms that you need to be on the lookout for. These are things that only you can notice, and they could be the difference between a diagnosis and advanced cancer.
- a change in how your teeth or dentures fit together
- a feeling that there’s something caught in your throat
- difficulty chewing, speaking, or opening and closing your mouth
- numbness in your mouth or face
- pain in your ears that doesn’t include hearing loss
- a change in your voice or hoarseness when speaking
Together We Can Beat Oral Cancer!
If you’re worried about risks or symptoms of oral cancer – and even if you’re not –regular dental exams are an important part of staying healthy. Don’t let yourself become an oral cancer statistic: help us fight it by taking an active role in your oral health!
What a winter it has been!
Spring is in full swing here in Carmel. Like everyone else, the turn in the weather reminds us of the important routines in our lives. Your oral hygiene should be no exception, so we’re taking this opportunity to remind you that a regular dental check-up should be part of your spring routine. It’s a good time for this reminder, because April is Oral Cancer Awareness month.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancers include cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, the floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, pharynx, and sinuses.
I Don’t Smoke; Do I Need To Be Concerned?
Absolutely! Of the 43,250 diagnoses of oral cancer that are expected this year, 25% of those cases will be people who don’t use tobacco, consume alcohol moderately, and are in general good health. In addition, the fastest growing group of oral cancer patients is people aged 25 – 50 (in other words, adults in their most active years). The reason? Three letters: HPV.
Understanding HPV’s Role in Oral Cancer
Let’s look at the numbers above for a moment. In some ways, they represent a positive shift in American’s perception of health. Historically, tobacco use was the greatest cause of oral cancer (it’s still a major cause). The fact is, fewer Americans are smoking, and more seem to be taking better care of their health in general.
HPV (Human papillomavirus) is spreading – fast. HPV is America’s most common sexually transmitted disease. 80% of us will be infected with HPV at some point in our lives. For the vast majority of people, 99% of those infected will not experience any obvious symptoms. This is what makes oral cancer so insidious. In the past, it was much easier for individuals to play a proactive role in oral cancer prevention: don’t smoke, and if you do, quit. Live a healthy lifestyle, and drink in moderation.
Because HPV is so prevalent, and because so many people may not even know that they have it, they may not be aware of the risk oral cancer poses. This means that all of us, patients and dental professionals alike, must be more vigilant. That means self-checks at home, and regular oral cancer screenings in the office.
Self-examinations at home are an important part of prevention. At least once a month, check your oral cavity and other areas for anything out of the ordinary. WebMD provides a good way of conducting a self-examination; click here to learn more. It’s a good habit to develop, and spring is a good time to make a new, good habit.
Here’s a list of symptoms you should look out for:
- Sores on the mouth which have not healed within 14 days
- Discolored areas around or in the mouth; look for areas that are white, red, or speckled
- You can feel a mass in your mouth or in your throat
- Unexplained bleeding, numbness, or pain in the face, neck, or mouth
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
- Chronic hoarseness or sore throat, or a notable change in your voice
- Ear pain (that is not accompanied by an ear infection or other explanation)
- Your teeth or dentures seem like they don’t “fit” right
- Sudden weight loss
How Often Should I Be Screened?
Good habits are a great first step, but they aren’t enough. Self-examinations aren’t a substitute for a screening by a professional. While you might catch a clear symptom on your own, ultimately they’re too difficult to identify without the proper training and experience. The American Cancer Society says that if you’re over 40, you should be getting a screening at least once a year (over twenty, once every three years is considered sufficient).
At Really Smile, an oral cancer screening is a routine part of any check-up.
What to Expect?
An oral cancer screening isn’t an involved procedure, although if your dentist does find something that doesn’t look right, he may recommend a biopsy of tissue from your oral cavity.
Remember the old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
We’re Here For You!
Make an appointment with us as soon as you can at our office in Carmel. If you’re reading this blog, and you’re in the Indianapolis area, you’re only a click away from us; just fill out this online form and we’ll do the rest! Or you can call our office directly at 317-451-4050.
If you’d like to learn more about oral cancer and the work of researchers fighting this disease, click here for the Oral Cancer Foundation’s website.