Unfortunately, the word “cancer” is not uncommon in our daily language. There are two types of cancers that you don’t often hear about that are killing Americans: oral and pharyngeal cancer. According to statistics from the American Cancer Society, an estimated 37,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer this year. Of this group, 7,300 are expected to die from this type of cancer.
Since oral and throat cancers, which typically start in the mouth and throat, respectively, are considered aggressive cancers, the importance of early detection cannot be overstated. Detecting mouth cancer early could dramatically affect the success of your treatment and recovery. One of the most critical steps you can take towards oral cancer detection is to visit your dentist for a routine checkup. Your dentist will conduct a full mouth examination to detect any signs of oral cancer or pre-cancer. For high-risk patients, a dentist may also use lights or special dyes to look for areas of abnormality. If signs of oral cancer are spotted, your dentist will advise you on the next step, which may include a small biopsy to confirm malignancy.
While oral cancer actually starts in the mouth, oropharyngeal cancer usually begins in the back of the throat. Both are typically found on the tongue, tonsils and oropharynx as well as the gums and mouth floor. Mouth cancer can also occur in the lips or salivary glands. Now that you know that oral cancer can be found virtually anywhere in your mouth, it is important to be aware of the risk factors. The strongest risk factor for oral and pharyngeal cancers are tobacco and alcohol use. If your lifestyle includes a combination of these two, your risk is especially high. Oropharyneal cancer has recently been linked to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) as well, which is spread during skin-to-skin sexual contact.
When was the last time you were screened for oral cancer? If it has been longer than six months, schedule an appointment for a routine check up today. If your lifestyle is putting you at risk for this aggressive type of cancer, consider changing your habits to benefit your health, or even save your life.