How much do you know about oral cancer? Oral cancer will be diagnosed in roughly 42,000 individuals just this year. Of those diagnosed, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years. Is this form of cancer really that aggressive or deadly? According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, “the death rate associated with oral cancer is particularly high not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but due to the cancer routinely discovered late in its development.” Seeing your dentist for regular, routine dental checkups as well as being aware of the early signs of oral cancer can change that. Your dentist or hygienist is specifically trained to detect subtle changes in your mouth that indicate cancer. Most dentists, such as Park South Dentistry, offer Oral Cancer Screenings to patients on a routine basis.
What should you look for? The early stages of oral cancer can be completely painless and may start as a lesion similar to a canker sore that does not heal after 14 days. Patients need to report any of the following symptoms to their dentist because of their association with oral cancer:
- A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
- A change in the color or texture of any part of the mouth or tongue
- Pain or numbness in any part of the oral cavity
- A white or velvety red patch that does not wear off
Who is at risk? Oral cancer risks tend to increase with age and are more frequently diagnosed in men more than women. However, the real culprits are proven to be the accumulative damage from tobacco use, alcohol consumption and persistent HPV or viral infection. If you both smoke and drink on a regular basis, you have a 15 times greater risk to develop oral cancer. Besides changing any contributing lifestyle factors, the most important action you can take is letting your dentist perform an oral cancer screening at your next checkup. It is a painless and quick procedure that could potentially save your life.