No one wants to think about cancer: it’s one of the most terrifying things that can happen to you. Certain cancers get more press than others, and near the bottom of that list is oral cancer. You practically never hear about it, yet the five year survival rate is only around 50 percent – that puts it in the top ten most fatal types of cancer.
At Overmeyer Family Dental we take oral cancer seriously, which is why we screen for it during every patient checkup. We only see you twice a year, though, which is why we want to talk about the signs and symptoms, and oral cancer risk factors you need to be aware about. April is oral cancer awareness month, and we’d be thrilled if you’d help us spread the word!
Oral Cancer Fatalities: Why So High?
We’re all familiar with the big symptoms of cancer: lumps, sores, hardened lymph nodes, and other abnormalities that immediately give us pause. Oral cancer is a bit different, though. Your mouth has one of the fastest cell regeneration rates in the body, just one reason why oral cancer doesn’t show symptoms early on. By the time you can easily spot cancer it’s usually already metastasized to other parts of the body.
For years this meant that it was nearly impossible to catch oral cancer early. Modern screening technology has made diagnosis easier, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement in catching cancer at its earliest.
That’s why we recommend you always do exams at home, generally around once a month. Using a flashlight and a dental mirror you can get a good look at the inside of your mouth so you can tell right away when something changes.
Keep a lookout for these visible symptoms:
- swelling or darkened spots
- lumps, sores, nodules, or crusty wounds
- raised white, red, or speckled spots
- eroded depressions in your gums or other soft tissue
- sores on the neck, lips, or jaw that bleed easily and last more than two weeks
- bleeding in the mouth without an obvious origin
There are also several non-visible symptoms you should keep an eye on too. These paired with an obvious trouble spot mean see us ASAP!
- a feeling that something is caught in your throat
- numbness, tingling, sensitivity, or loss of sensation in your mouth, jaw, or neck
- difficulty swallowing or speaking (your tongue is numb or hard to move)
- changes in your bite or how your dentures fit
- ear pain without hearing loss
- hoarseness in your voice or a persistent sore throat
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
Worried that you might be at risk for oral cancer? There are a lot of lifestyle choices and habits that make oral cancer risks higher, and there are also quite a few things that are out of your control.
- smokers have six times the risk of developing oral cancer as nonsmokers
- smokeless tobacco users have 50 times the risk of developing oral cancer!
- people who drink excessively account for 70 percent of oral cancer cases
- a lot of sun exposure, especially as a child, is a major cause of oral cancer, particularly on the lips
- diets lacking in fruits and vegetables make oral cancer risks higher
- a family history of any kind of cancer increases risks
- carrying the human papillomavirus, specifically HPV-16 is a major risk factor
Don’t forget – none of these risk factors are a definite cause of oral cancer. You may have a better chance of developing it, but none are guarantees. The best way to reduce your chances is to cut down on harmful habits as soon as you can!
How We Identify Oral Cancer
Aside from reducing your risks by quitting tobacco use, cutting down on drinking, eating well, and staying out of the sun, your best bet for not becoming an oral cancer statistic is by scheduling a cleaning at our Orlando office every six months.
We screen all our patients for oral cancer during their exams, and if we notice anything abnormal we can take a biopsy immediately and send it off to the lab for testing.
Don’t Get Worried – We’ll Help!
If you’re concerned about your oral cancer risks, or simply need to get your teeth cleaned and examined, there’s no better time than now! We’re ready to see you at Overmeyer Family Dental – you just need to pick up the phone and give us a call!