Cancer is far and away one of the ugliest words in the English language. Defined as a broad group of diseases involving unregulated cell growth, cancer is responsible for more than 10% of all deaths worldwide on an annual basis. Although methods of detection, treatment and therapy have all improved, cancer continues to rob us of our loved ones. Unfortunately for many reading this, cancer has impacted their lives in an adverse way. Many others have looked their sickness in the eye and refused to let it beat them.
For most, none of this is new information. What you may not know however is that oral cancer, the abnormal growth of body cells in the oral cavity is one of the most dangerous forms of the disease one can have. Historical evidence has shown that oral cancer has resulted in death in more than 50% of cases within 5 years of diagnosis. In fact, oral cancer puts one at a higher risk of death than cervical cancer, testicular cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and skin cancer.
Before you begin to panic, we have some very good news for you. As with most forms of cancer, the earlier the detection the higher the rate of survival and successful treatment. Not enough? How about this; oral cancer is one of the most easily screened forms of the disease, requiring a simple five minute exam from your dentist or a trained medical professional. If you read every post we ever put up and had only one takeaway, make it this; make it a priority for you and your loved ones to get an oral cancer screening each time you visit your dentist (twice a year is ideal). The results of this could be live saving.
What is the Oral Cavity?
The oral cavity consists of various tissues and parts that are located in and around the mouth. This includes the lips, linings of the cheeks, salivary glands, gums and teeth, tongue, tonsils and the roof, back and floor of the mouth. Cancer of the throat is often lumped in under the term oral cancer as well given their neighbourly relationship.
How Can My Dentist and I Tell if I Have Oral Cancer?
Early detection is paramount in dealing with potential oral cancer issues. Your dentist most likely routinely examines the tissues of your mouth visually and with gloved hands to look for signs of the disease. If you have never received such a screening, raise it with your dentist. Some prefer to visually inspect and that may be enough to satisfy you. That is your call. Oral cancer screening is best done using a light technology known as tissue fluorescence visualization which allows for improved visibility on abnormalities. If your dentist doesn’t offer such a test, find one who does.
It is highly likely that reading this piece or thinking about oral cancer may have you in front of a mirror self-examining your mouth to diagnose or eliminate worry. Although an occasional sore or even a lump can be completely harmless, uncommon frequencies can be cause for worry. Symptoms of oral cancer include:
Tissues swelling or thickening, lumps, rough crusty and discoloured areas on any areas in and around the mouth;
Prominent white and/or red patches in the mouth;
Increased and unexplained bleeding;
Loss of feeling and/or pain and tenderness in and around the mouth area, face or neck;
Sores that bleed easily and persist for more than 2 weeks;
Soreness in the mouth and throat;
Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the jaw and tongue;
Chronic sore throat and even a change in voice tone;
Dentures not fitting as they should or teeth suddenly crowding or separating;
Who Is More at Risk of Developing Oral Cancer?
Anyone could hypothetically develop oral cancer, though certain demographic factors and social habits could put you at an increased risk. According to the American Cancer Society, men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer and those that do are more often that not over the age of 50. Beyond older gentlemen, the following factors increased oral cancer risk;
Smoking – whether by way of cigarettes, cigars or pipes smoking can increase your risk of oral cancer six fold.
Chewing Tobacco – commonly referred to as dip or snuff, chewing tobacco is the closest dance with oral cancer risk you can take. The act of chewing makes one 50 times more likely to have oral cancer.
Alcohol Abuse – Alcohol disrupts the natural pH balance of our mouth and actually harms the healthy tissue in our mouth. Excessive consumption can damage cells to the point that they begin to pose a threat. Oral cancer in alcoholics is six times more likely.
Those Who Smoke and Drink – The effect is more 2 x 2 than 2 + 2.
Family History of Cancer – Unfortunately self explanatory.
Poor Oral Hygiene – Although drinkers and smokers are more likely to have poorer oral hygiene habits, everyone who has gum disease, cavities and infection are at a higher level of risk.
Poor Diet – As the saying goes; garbage in garbage out.
Oral Sex – Although hotly debated, thanks to the HPV virus this one is sadly potentially true.
Too Much Sun – There is definitely such a thing as too much sun. There is also definitely a reason sunscreen exists and should be used.
Please do not forgo a thorough oral cancer screening for you and your loved ones. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, early detection is paramount to successful treatment and should be as regular as your 6 month check up. Talk to your dentist about your concerns and questions you may have.
Dental hygienists can also be trained in oral cancer screening. For an example of what one entails, check out the video below: