Nearly 42,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year. Oral cancers are part of a group of cancers commonly referred to as head and neck cancers (brain cancers are not included in this category), and of all head and neck cancers they comprise about 85% of that category. Historically the death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development.
Understanding the causative factors of cancer will contribute to prevention of the disease. Age is frequently named as a risk factor for oral cancer, as historically it occurs in those over the age of 40. The age of diagnosed patients may indicate a time component in the biochemical or biophysical processes of aging cells in the mouth that allows malignant transformation, or perhaps, the ability of the immune system to fend of disease diminishes with age.
Many people are quick to only blame smoking as the cause of oral cancer. However, it is likely that the accumulative damage from other factors, such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and persistent viral infections such as HPV, are the real culprits.
One of the real dangers of this cancer is that, in its early stages, it can go unnoticed. It can be painless, and little in the way of physical changes may be obvious. The good news is however, that your dentist or doctor can, in many cases, see or feel the precursor tissue changes, or the actual cancer while it is still very small, or in its earliest stages. At Aesthetic Family Dentistry, we use the top of the line cancer screening equipment that can detect even the slightest change in oral tissue at the cellular level.
Because there are so many benign tissue changes that occur normally in your mouth (and some things as simple as a bite on the inside of your cheek may mimic the look of a dangerous tissue change) it is important to have any sore or discolored area of your mouth which does not heal within 14 days looked at by a professional. Other symptoms include; a lump or mass which can be felt inside the mouth or neck, pain or difficulty in swallowing, speaking, or chewing, any wart like masses, hoarseness which lasts for a long time, or any numbness in the oral/facial region. Unilateral persistent ear ache can also be a warning sign.
If caught early, oral cancer is one of the most easily treated cancers. Patients with cancers treated in their early stages should have very little , if any effects, in the way of post treatment disfigurement. For those whose cancer is caught at a later stage, the results of surgical removal of the disease may require reconstruction of portions of their oral cavity or facial features.
It’s never too early to screen for oral cancer. Ask your dentist or doctor about screening options at your next appointment.