Today, we are taking a break from general dentistry to talk about something even more serious.
This year, the Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that approximately 50,000 people will be diagnosed with this disease in 2018 in the United States. Scarier still, an average of one person dies every hour in America from oral cancer.
Jennifer Perkins, DDS, wants to help patients in and around Huntsville, AL to stay free from this potentially deadly disease. One of the ways we do that is by conducting oral cancer screenings as part of our routine cleanings and exams.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, so we want to share some facts that you should know about this disease.
Eighty to 90 percent of people diagnosed with oral cancer in the early stages will survive with proper treatment. Unfortunately, most oral cancers are detected in the latter stages, when the five-year survival rate drops to 57 percent.
This is why we conduct screenings for our patients. We don’t want anyone to have oral cancer, but if you do, we want to detect it as early as possible.
Since you may only visit us a couple times each year, we also want you to know about possible symptoms to look for on your own:
- Red or white patches on the soft tissues of your mouth
- A chronic feeling of hoarseness or a sore throat
- Pain or trouble chewing or swallowing
- A lump in the tissues of your mouth, throat, or neck
- A sore in your mouth that never seems to heal and bleeds easily
If you notice any of those signs, please contact a medical professional so you can get checked and, if needed, begin treatment as soon as possible.
People can develop oral cancer for a variety of reasons. Decades of research have revealed the most common causes of oral cancer, although there are still cases in which the cause(s) are unknown.
By knowing what the risk factors are, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing this disease.
▶ Using Tobacco
This should not be a surprise to anyone. This doesn’t just include smoking. Smokeless tobacco can be worse in some situations, but it’s clear that tobacco products are easily the leading cause of oral cancers.
We can’t list all the cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco products, but there are a lot in cigarettes, cigars, chew, dip, snuff, etc. Studies have shown that as many as 80 percent of oral cancer patients are or have been regular tobacco users.
▶ Heavy Alcohol Use
Having a drink now and then isn’t a great concern, If you are consuming 21 or more drinks per week, you are raising your risk of developing oral cancer, however.
▶ Using Alcohol & Tobacco
As bad as tobacco and alcohol use can be on their own, the way they interact can be particularly risky. Alcohol can lead to dry mouth, and a dry mouth will absorb the chemicals in tobacco products more quickly.
In particular, two strains of the human papillomavirus (16 and 18) have been linked with cancer. As much as 80 percent of the population with contract HPV during their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The good news is that most people experience little or no effects from this virus. For 1 percent of the population, unfortunately, HPV can lead to oral and other cancers. There is a vaccine that can greatly reduce this risk if it is administered before someone is exposed to HPV.
Talk to your doctor to find out if the HPV vaccine would be useful for you or someone you love.
Be Proactive for Your Health
We want you to have a healthy mouth, but we want you to be in good overall health as well. By getting regular dental exams, you can help detect problems early when they are easier to treat.