February 3, 2010

Diagnosis of Oral Cancers

Oral cancer (or mouth cancer) is a very serious matter. The Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) estimates that 43,250 people in the US will learn that they have oral cancer in 2014. Far from being rare, the OFC points out that “a person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day.”

All parts of the mouth are at risk for cancer. This includes the throat, lips, tongue, and every other area of the mouth. For those diagnosed with oral cancer, the survival rate past five years is only fifty percent. As a result, it is vital that you know the facts about how to prevent oral cancer and when to seek help.

Oral Cancer and Early Detection

Oral cancer comes in two forms: oral cavity cancer and oropharyngeal cancer. The first type spreads from the mouth and the second spreads from the throat.

Of all the symptoms of oral cancer, the most typical are a bleeding sore or sores that will not heal and pain in the mouth that does not go away. The conditions that follow may also be early signs of mouth cancer:

  • A red or white patch in any area of the mouth
  • A lump in the cheek
  • An area of the mouth that has grown encrusted
  • Problems when you try to move your tongue, swallow, or chew

Dentists train to detect these early signs of mouth cancer, which makes regular dental check-ups all the more crucial for you and your loved ones. It is also vital that those who suffer from one or more of these symptoms for two or more weeks see a dentist or doctor as soon as they can.

Oral Cancer Risk Factors

The key risk factors for mouth cancer are tobacco use and heavy drinking (defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as two or more drinks per day for men and more than a drink per day for women). Men have twice the risk of women due to higher use of tobacco and alcohol.

A diet low in veggies and fruits can also be a risk, and too much time in the sun may put you at risk for lip cancer. Between a fifth and a third of oral cancer cases have HPV (human papilloma virus) infection as a contributing factor.

Both age and ethnicity are also risk factors for mouth cancer. As one ages, the risks of mouth cancer increase. In fact, fifty percent of those with mouth cancer are above the age of 62.

The rate of oral cancer among black people is one-third higher than for white people, and black people die of the disease at twice the rate of white people.

Yet, in spite of the data on risk, a quarter of those who are diagnosed have no known risk factors.

The Upshot for Dental Patients

What should you do to help avoid mouth cancer? First, be sure to have regular dental check-ups. An exam every 6 months is a crucial part of any oral hygiene plan. And since they help detect oral cancer early on, they are all the more important.

Second, to quote the American Cancer Society: “Most oral cancers could be prevented if people did not use tobacco or drink heavily.”

If you think you may have oral cancer, or if you have any of the symptoms described here, see your doctor or dentist right away.