No other word in the medical dictionary strikes fear quite like ‘cancer’ does. Well, perhaps with the exception of the Ebola virus. But when you consider that one in every four people will develop some kind or form of cancer in their lives, and that a significant portion of these people will die from it, one can’t help but believe this terrible affliction to be an early death sentence. Approximately 51,550 people in the US will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2018.
Of this number, close to 8,000 die every year, which equates to one every hour, 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, the prognosis isn’t rosy. Approximately 43% of all the people diagnosed with oral cancer will not survive the next five years. These are depressing statistics and it’s only increased awareness that will lead to the earlier diagnosis and successful treatment of oral cancer, advise dentistry professionals.
The Importance of Oral Cancer Awareness
There are two very important ways people can become more aware of oral cancer, say dentistry professionals: (1) through an understanding of its risk factors and (2) through an understanding of its symptoms. If you recognize that you are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer, perhaps because you have a family history of it, or because you smoke, then you can go to extra lengths to keep an eye on the health of the soft tissues in the mouth. If you understand that oral cancer can present as a small discoloration on the tongue, a lump on the roof of the mouth or some other inconspicuous abnormality, you will be immediately compelled to seek the attention of a dentistry professional should anything suspicious ever arise. Either way, the very best way to deal with cancer is, if not through prevention, then through early diagnosis and treatment.
1. Dentistry: Causes and Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
Oral cancer most frequently attacks the lips, tongue, cheek linking, palate, gingiva (gum) and the floor of the mouth, say dentistry professionals. The most common form of oral cancer is called a squamous cell carcinoma and risk factors include:
• Smoking and tobacco use (most cases of oral cancer are linked to tobacco use in one form or another; even smokeless tobacco use.)
• Excessive alcohol consumption
• Chronic irritation or inflammation of the soft tissues in the mouth, say dentistry professionals, such as might be caused by dentures, rough teeth or fillings.
• The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection
• Lifelong poor oral hygiene, which leads to oral bacterial infection and inflammation of the gingiva. This also causes periodontal (gum) disease, say dentistry professionals.
• Immunosuppressant medications (those that weaken the immune system).
• Unfortunately, gender also plays a role in the incidence of oral cancer. According to statistics, men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer as women, particularly those that are older than 40, say dentistry professionals.
• A family history of oral cancer is a definite risk factor for this disease.
2. Dentistry: The Symptoms of Oral Cancer
It should be a part of your daily oral hygiene routine to check your cheeks, tongue, palate and gums for any abnormalities, say dentistry professionals. These include sores, ulcers and lumps in the mouth that may be:
• A different color to the surrounding tissue (most frequently paler, but may be darker).
• A deep, hard-edged fissure or crack in the soft tissue.
• Painless (but may burn or ache in the advanced stages)
Many oral cancers begin as a mouth ulcer or leukoplakia (a white growth), say dentistry professionals. Always be wary of sores that do not heal or reoccur. Other symptoms include:
• Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
• Weight loss
• Mouth sores
• Chewing problems
• Difficulties in speech
• Swallowing difficulty and pain
• Tongue problems
Dentistry: Testing for Oral Cancer
The tests performed by dentistry professionals to diagnose oral cancer generally involve a thorough visual examination of the soft tissues in the mouth and the palpitation of the neck, throat and lymph nodes. They also use a Trimira Identafi 3000 light which was developed by the MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston, Texas. It uses three wave lengths of light, with no radiation so that your dentist has the ability to see through tissue and take care of problems years before they come to the surface.
Should the exam reveal any sores, ulcers, bleeding, lumps or lesions, the dentist will perform a biopsy of the abnormality to determine whether it is cancerous or not. They may also opt for X-rays and/or a CT scan to see whether the cancer has spread. The treatment for oral cancer generally involves the surgical removal of the tumor if it is small enough. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also be recommended if the tumor is large or has spread.
Dentistry: A Final Note on Oral Cancer
If you ever notice any of the symptoms listed above, on their own or in any combination, it is of the utmost importance that you contact a Dentistry professional immediately and schedule yourself for an appointment. Timely treatment WILL save your life!