With April being Oral Cancer Awareness Month it is important to make practitioners and the general public aware of the risks and the signs and symptoms of Oral Cancer. The Southeastern United States is where oral cancers are diagnosed more than any other part of the country, likely due to increased use of cigarettes and chewing tobacco. It is our duty as practitioners to counsel our patients, even if they don’t want to hear it because they “already know”, because we are responsible for the health of their oral cavity which in turn affect their overall health
Unlike many other cancers that affect the body, oral cancer is often pretty easily discovered. Even though it is rarely associated with discomfort it can usually be detected with a visual exam. Once we detect a suspicious area it’s best to have it biopsied which will give us a definitive diagnosis. Being aware of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer is an important part of knowing when to seek professional help and getting treatment as soon as possible. This is information we can utilize in practice and pass along to our patients.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer:
• Persistent sores in the mouth that do not heal
• Swelling, lumps, crusty rough patches or erosion on any part in the mouth
• Velvety white, red, or white and red patches in the mouth
• Unexplained numbness/tingling or tenderness and pain in and around the mouth or face and neck
• Unexplained bleeding
• Difficulty swallowing or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
• Problems chewing, speaking, moving the jaw or tongue
• Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, voice changes
• Changes in bite/the way your teeth fit together, or the way dentures fit or bite together
Some of the main risk factors for Oral Cancer:
• Tobacco use (any form of smoking tobacco and smokeless tobacco, “dip” or “snuff”)
• HPV- human papillomavirus
• Heavy drinking
• Excessive sun exposure ( contributes to lip cancer- a form of oral cancer)
Things that may help prevent Oral Cancer:
• Don’t smoke or use “dip”/chewing tobacco! If you do, get serious about quitting.
• Don’t drink, or only drink in moderation
• Eat an overall nutritious diet and maintain an active, healthy lifestyle
• Avoid too much sun exposure, use a sunscreen lip balm with an SPF 15 or higher
• Take precautions to avoid contracting HPV
All routine exams should include a visual screening for Oral Cancer – mark that down as one more reason why regular dental visits are important. You should also examine your own mouth about once a month and inspect all surfaces in good lighting. Inspect inside your cheeks, the top, underside, and sides of your tongue, and the roof of your mouth. The earlier cancer is detected, the sooner it can be treated and make a big difference in the prognosis!