April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re doing our part to make sure you’re educated on the risks and treatment surrounding this disease.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, “Close to 49,750 Americans will be diagnosed with oral oropharyngeal cancer this year. It will cause over 9,750 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours per day. Of those 49,750 newly diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years.”
Those are some pretty astonishing stats. Oral cancer may not be one of the most common cancers, but its seriousness cannot be understated.
The high death rate is not necessarily due to the difficulty of diagnosing or treating the cancer. Rather, it’s because oral cancer is generally discovered late into the disease’s development. As it is with any cancer, early detection is essential for the patient to overcome this disease and to continue living a happy and full life.
Additional Facts About Oral Cancer
Here are some other important facts about oral cancer to keep in mind:
- The median age of diagnosis is 62 years old
- A high percentage of deaths occur within the 55-64 age group
- Men are twice as likely to develop the cancer
- Approximately 90% of oral cancer patients have used tobacco
- Oral cancers makes up approximately 85% of all head and neck cancers
There are several factors that increase your risk of contracting oral cancer, which include:
- Tobacco use (e-cigs, cigarettes, pipes, chewing, dip, etc.)
- Excessive alcohol use
- Abnormally high sun exposure
- Family history of cancer
- Having HPV
- Chewing on betel nuts
It’s important to note that even if you’re not a smoker, it is still very possible for you to contract this disease. Lowered exposure to any of the risk factors above may lower your risk of getting cancer, but it does not mean you should not get checked by a health professional.
Signs and Symptoms
Here’s what to look out for when it comes to oral cancer:
- Sores in the mouth that will not go away
- Unexplained bleeding or numbness in the mouth
- Appearance of white and red speckles in the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing or chewing
- Hoarseness, change in voice, and soreness in the throat
- An unexplained shift in your teeth or jawline
Remember that in some cases of a cancer diagnosis, signs and symptoms may not appear until later in the development of the cancer. If you find that you’re at a higher risk for contracting the disease and are starting to experience some of the symptoms above, make an appointment with your dentist immediately.
The process for diagnosing oral cancer does not differ much from other cancers. The first step is to set up an appointment with your dentist to discuss your concerns. The dentist will look at your symptoms and determine whether your symptoms are caused by some other issue that may exist. If no such cause is found, they may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist to run more tests.
Depending on what the specialist finds, a biopsy may be ordered. A CT scan, endoscopy, or MRI may also be ordered for accuracy. In a biopsy, a sample of your tissue is sent to a pathologist for further examination. A report is sent to your specialist, and that combined with the results from other tests like a CT scan will help the doctor determine whether you have oral cancer.
Has the cancer spread to other areas of the body and to your lymph nodes? Is the cancer from a different part of your body that has spread to your mouth? How early or advanced is the cancer? All of these questions will be answered through this diagnosis process.
Treatment and Prevention
The stage at which your cancer is at will determine the path for treatment. Some patients may only require radiation, which is the use of high-energy waves targeted at tumors and cancerous cells. Otherwise, for those who have discovered their cancer later in the disease’s development, you may need to undergo chemotherapy.
The length of treatment is different for everyone, but patients with early stage cancer may expect at least one to two months of daily treatment. If you’re undergoing radiation, you can expect side effects to appear after one or two weeks, and the severity differs for everyone. Your oncologist will go over what to expect and how to treat the pain and symptoms from treatment.
If your cancer is at an advanced stage, or if the cancer comes back after treatment, sometimes surgery is required to remove the affected tissues.
Preventing oral cancer is about limiting your exposure to the aforementioned dangers. Other measures you can take include:
- Stop smoking and using tobacco products
- Limit alcohol intake
- Wear chapstick with sunscreen or lipstick with UV protection
- Eat healthier, adding broccoli and mushrooms to your diet
- Get regular STD tests to check for HPV
If you believe you’re at risk for oral cancer, do regular check-ups at home and with your dentist. Check often for sores and visit your dentist regularly!
Need to set an appointment? Contact us here or call 562-434-6414.