April marks Oral Cancer Awareness Month, emphasizing the importance of making oral cancer screening a regular part of your dental exam routine.
Close to 54,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year. It will cause over 9,750 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours per day. Sadly, far too many mouth cancers are not spotted early enough. Early detection and treatment significantly improve outcomes.
Oral Cancer Awareness
Oral cancer (mouth cancer) is the most common form of cancer that affects the inside of your oral cavity.
The oral cavity includes:
- Lining inside of your cheeks
- The floor of your mouth (under your tongue)
- The area right behind your wisdom teeth
- Roof of the mouth
- First two-thirds of your tongue
In its early stages, oral cancer can be difficult to spot, making it easy to overlook. Regular oral cancer examinations performed by your dentist remains the best method to detect oral cancer in its early stages. Some dentists use special lights and/or dyes to help with the exam. Research shows that a careful examination by an experienced practitioner is just as effective. In between appointments, we encourage patients to pay close attention to what’s going on inside their mouth. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, tell your dentist or doctor immediately.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of Oral Cancer may include:
- A lip or mouth sore that doesn’t heal
- A white or reddish patch on the inside of your mouth
- Loose teeth
- A growth or lump inside your mouth
- Mouth pain
- Ear pain
- Difficult or painful swallowing
Make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that bother you and last more than two weeks.
About 75% of people who develop oral cancer have the following habits:
- Smoke cigarettes, cigars or pipes.
- Use smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, dip, snuff or water pipes (hookah or shush).
- Regularly drink excessive amounts of alcohol
- Spend a lot of time in the sun without protecting their lips with sunblock.
- Have human papillomaviral(HPV).
- Have a family history of oral cancer.
There’s no proven way to prevent mouth cancer. However, you can reduce your risk of mouth cancer if you:
- Stop using tobacco or don’t start. Using tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, exposes the cells in your mouth to dangerous cancer-causing chemicals.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all. Chronic excessive alcohol use can irritate the cells in your mouth, making them vulnerable to mouth cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
- Receive an HPV vaccine. The HPV Vaccine protects against types of HPV that can cause certain oropharyngeal cancers.
- Avoid excessive sun exposure to your lips.Protect the skin on your lips from the sun by staying in the shade when possible or wear a broad-brimmed hat that effectively shades your entire face. Apply a sunscreen lip product as part of your routine sun protection regimen.
- See your dentist regularly. As part of a routine dental exam, ask your dentist to inspect your entire mouth for abnormal areas that may indicate mouth cancer or precancerous changes.
Can I spot potential oral cancer?
Detecting oral cancer early can reduce the chance the cancer will grow or spread. You can detect oral cancer early by doing a monthly self-examination. If you spot changes or something unusual, check it in 7-10 days. If it is still present, contact your dentist.
Here’s how to examine your mouth, throat and neck for signs of oral cancer:
- Feel your lips, the front of your gums and the roof of your mouth.
- Feel your neck and under your lower jaw for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes.
- Use a bright light and a mirror to look inside your mouth.
- Tilt your head back and look at the roof of your mouth.
- Pull your cheeks out to view the inside of your mouth, the lining of your cheeks and your back gums.
- Pull your tongue out and look at the top, bottom and sides. Gently push your tongue back so you can see the floor of your mouth.
For more information about oral cancer, and its diagnosis and treatment speak to your dentist or visit www.oralcancer.org.