What Is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer, a.k.a cancer of the mouth and upper throat, kills about one person every hour of every day of the year. Of the people that are newly diagnosed, about 40 percent won’t survive longer than five years. In addition, those who do survive can suffer long-term problems, such as severe facial disfigurement or difficulties eating and speaking. The death rate associated with oral cancers is particularly high since the cancer is often discovered late in its development.
Why Do We Have Oral Cancer Awareness Month?
Because the death rate is so high, it’s important we dedicate an entire month to educating the public about the risks. Oral Cancer Awareness Month is celebrated in April, and it’s a national screening campaign to end oral cancer. Awareness in the American public is low, and without education– the problem won’t get any better.
The purpose of the campaign is to remind everyone that regular cancer exams by your dentist, remain the best method to detect oral cancer in its early stages. The Academy of General Dentistry, the American Academy of Oral Medicine, the American Dental Association, and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, just to name a few– have all joined the Oral Cancer Foundation in its campaign to educate the public about knowing the risks.
Being aware of the symptoms and risk factors of oral and oropharyngeal cancer– along with early detection and treatment, may be the key to a complete recovery. There are a number of things that contribute to the onset of oral cancer, but the top three are tobacco, alcohol and HPV.
Cigarette smoking puts you at a higher risk for developing mouth cancer, since tobacco smoke contains chemicals that have been proven to contribute to oral and esophageal cancer.
All forms of alcohol can cause or contribute to mouth cancer. Alcohol, particularly when used in addition to tobacco, has been recognized as an important risk factor for almost 50 years.
Finally, genital HPV, also known as the human papilloma virus, is a very common sexually transmitted disease. It usually causes no symptoms and goes away by itself, but it can cause serious illnesses, including oral cancer. In fact, HPV is responsible for approximately 60% of all oral cancers.
As a result, the fastest growing demographic of oral cancer patients is young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals. If you have HPV, you’re 30 times more likely to develop oral cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
Knowing the signs and symptoms of this terrible disease can help with early detection, and ultimately save lives. The following are all signs you could have oral cancer:
-A white or red patch in your mouth.
-A feeling that something is caught in your throat.
-Difficulty chewing or swallowing.
-A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in your mouth, lip, or throat.
-Difficulty moving your tongue or jaw.
-Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth.
-Swelling of your jaw.
-Pain in one ear without hearing loss.
If you have any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, you need to see us for an exam right away. Usually, these symptoms don’t mean cancer, but you need be sure. An infection or other problem can cause the same symptoms– but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
We can’t stop this virus from spreading, but we do hope to save lives with professional involvement and public awareness. While the death toll is high, when cancers are detected and treated early, mortality and treatment related health problems are greatly reduced.
If you’ve never never had an oral cancer examination, there’s no better time to schedule one than this month. When you do, be sure to ask that this examination be made a routine part of all of your future dental check-ups. Make your appointment today!
Dr. Randall Burba is an American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry accredited dentist, practicing in Salem, Massachusetts. He considers himself an artist–with teeth and beyond! He often paints, draws and has a passion for woodworking.