Did you know that April is Oral, Head & Neck Cancer Awareness Month? Like most cancers, until you have been directly affected by it, you probably don’t know when the awareness month is, or what color ribbon represents oral cancer (oral cancer is burgundy and white). But, also like other cancers, once you have been affected by it, your life is forever changed.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, “Approximately 53,000 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer this year. 132 new people in the US EVERY DAY will be newly diagnosed with an oral cancer, and that one person EVERY HOUR OF THE DAY, 24/7/365 will die from it.”
Sadly, many people are not aware of the signs and risk factors of oral cancer, which leads to oral cancer being discovered later when cancer treatments are less effective. That’s why we are taking time today to raise awareness for oral cancer so you or someone you love can seek help if and when needed before it is too late.
Risk Factors of Oral Cancer
Like other cancers, we continue to learn more about who is most at risk of oral cancer. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, “Historically, those at an especially high risk of developing oral cancer have been heavy drinkers and smokers older than 50, but today the cancer also is occurring more frequently in non-smokers due to human papillomavirus 16 (HPV), the virus most commonly associated with cervical cancer.”
The Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of oral cancer vary – and the symptoms may be different depending on the related risk factor. For instance, the early symptoms can range from sores or lumps in the mouth to more serious symptoms, such as difficulty chewing. Here are the common signs and symptoms of oral cancer:
- A sore that lasts more than 14 days
- Red, white, black discoloration of tissue inside the mouth
- An abnormality that bleeds easily and when touched
- A lump or hard spot
- A growth
- A lump that can be felt in outside the neck for two weeks or more
- Hoarseness or sore throat that does not go away in a few weeks
- Constant coughing
- Difficulty swallowing or the sensation of food getting caught in the throat
- An earache on one side
All of these symptoms are persistent and lasting; they do not come and go. If this sounds like something you are battling, then you need to contact your Houston dentist as soon as possible.
The Types of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer varies from one patient to the next. Oral cancer refers to all cancers affecting the oral cavity, so it includes the tongue, the tonsils and oropharynx, the gums, the floor of the mouth, and other parts of the mouth. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, “More than 90 percent of cancers that occur in the oral cavity are squamous cell carcinomas.” The remaining 10% of cancers in the oral cavity are various types.
Like other cancers, oral cancer is life-threatening and will not go away without treatment. The Oral Cancer Foundation reports, “Standard treatment usually involves radiation therapy and surgery, and often chemotherapy. Relative survival rates vary by stage at the time of diagnosis.” The earlier oral cancer is discovered and diagnosed, the sooner the patient can receive treatment, and the more likely the patient will survive.
The Importance of Regular Screenings
Screenings are key to reducing the death rate of oral cancer. Oral cancer screenings are examinations performed by Houston dentists or doctors. During the screening, the dentist will look for signs of cancer or precancerous symptoms. At your regular dental checkup, you can ask your dentist to perform an oral cancer screening that is more in-depth than a traditional oral checkup if you are concerned or have factors that put you more at risk.
The Right Way to Conduct Self Exams
Since early detection is key, it is important to check your mouth regularly for any potential warning signs. Check Your Mouth, a website developed by the Oral Cancer Foundation and multiple dental associations, is designed as a means to encourage the public to perform self-exams regularly and to make appointments if there is something of concern that does not disappear in two weeks. The website includes guides and videos for self-exams. In short, you will need to examine your mouth carefully and feel for any changes.
How to Reduce Your Chances of Getting Oral Cancer
While we can’t definitively say there are steps you can take to eliminate your chances of getting oral cancer, based on evidence, there are several steps you can take to reduce your oral cancer risks greatly. For example, stop smoking and using tobacco. Also, limit your drinking. In particular, if you smoke and drink alcohol, your chances of getting oral cancer are significantly higher. Likewise, if you quit both, your risks decrease. Additionally, since there is a clear connection between oral cancer and HPV, it is wise to get an HPV vaccine.
You should also continue to practice good oral hygiene. If you protect your teeth by brushing and flossing and visiting your dentist for routine cleaning and checkups, you are more likely to notice any potential warning signs.
Ways to Support and Bring Awareness to Oral Cancer
One way to spread awareness about the dangers of oral cancer is simply to tell others. Promote Oral Cancer Awareness Month on your social media pages. Consider donating to an organization like the Oral Cancer Foundation. Or fundraise by participating in one of the Oral Cancer Foundation’s Walk Run events.
Report Any Concerning Lesions to Your Houston Dentist ASAP
Greenspoint Dental in Houston is ready to be on the front lines of battle for our patients when it comes to oral cancer. If you have any concerning symptoms, especially those that are persistent and last for two weeks, contact our Houston dental care team to set up an appointment.