Oral cancer is a serious oral health care problem. More than 40,000 people get an oral cancer diagnosis every year, according to the National Cancer Institute. As with any cancer, early diagnosis means there is a better chance of a cure.
Dentists are the first line of defense in early detection of the oral cancer. It’s very important to schedule and keep your twice-yearly dental exams. At the office of Tab A. Boyle, DDS, in Lancaster, CA, we want you to have the healthiest mouth possible. That’s why when you come in for your routine exams, we make oral cancer screening a part of what we do.
The earliest signs of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer could be mistaken for other problems, such as a toothache or cold. When problems like that persist, you should see a professional. You should make an appointment to see us if you have a toothache, anyway. Toothaches could be dangerous if left untreated for too long. There could be a risk of infection that is spread to other parts of your mouth.
Mouth cancer refers to cancer that develops in any part of the mouth. The most common symptoms include:
- Thickened areas, lumps, or bumps, in areas inside the mouth.
- Rough or crusty feeling spots on the lips, gums or other areas inside the mouth
- White, red, or speckled patches in the mouth
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Numbness in your mouth or in the area of your face and neck
- Sores on the neck, face, or mouth that bleed easily and don’t heal within two weeks
- A feeling like something is caught in the back of your throat
- Difficulty chewing
- Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue
- Ear pain
- A change in the way dentures fit together
If you have any of these symptoms, come into the office and we’ll check you out.
What Causes Mouth/Oral Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, these are the most common causes of oral cancer:
- Smoking. People who smoke cigarette, cigars, (and even pipe smokers) are six times more likely to develop oral cancers than non-smokers. The best thing to do is to quit smoking but if you don’t, regular dental exams become even more important.
- Using smokeless tobacco. People who dip, snuff, or chew tobacco are 50 times more likely to develop cancers of the cheek, gums, and lining of the lips. Nicotine in the tobacco is absorbed through the lining of the mouth.
- Consuming too much alcohol. Oral cancers are about six times more common in drinkers than in nondrinkers. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, about 70 percent of people diagnosed with oral cancer are heavy drinkers.
- Having a family history of cancer. A family history of cancer increases your risk of developing mouth cancer.
- Having excessive sun exposure. This holds true even if your excessive sun exposure happened when you were young.
- Having the human papillomavirus (c). Certain HPV strains are risk factors for Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC), the second most common form of skin cancer. Most HPV infections cause no symptoms and go away spontaneously. In some people, however, they persist and result in warts or precancerous lesions.
HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers usually happen in the throat at the base of the tongue and near or on the tonsils. They can be difficult to detect, which is why your dentist does the screening. According to the American Dental Association, people with HPV-positive cancers have a lower risk of dying or having recurrence than those with HPV-negative cancers.
How Is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?
Dr. Boyle will conduct an oral cancer screening exam as part of your routine dental exam. He may talk to you about your health history and habits such as smoking. He’ll do a visual exam to look for any sores or discolored tissue in and around your mouth (as well as any of the symptoms listed earlier).
If you’ve had regular visits to the dentist, it will be easier for him to notice slight differences. In the case of oral cancer, the earlier it is caught, the better the outcome.
The first step toward finding and curing mouth cancer, is being informed about it. If you know the risk factors, you can know what to look for. Make an appointment with Tab A. Boyle, DDS, in Lancaster, CA, today by calling 661-524-8457 or using our online form.