Oral Cancer: Are You at Risk?
Oral cancer is a disease that is becoming more prevalent. Every year approximately 45,000 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of oral or pharyngeal cancer and 8,650 will die. Out of those newly diagnosed just over half will still be alive in five years’ time which is not exactly a great survival rate. One of the reasons why oral cancer has such a high death rate is not because it’s hard to diagnose or treat, but rather because this cancer is often discovered late in the day.
Another problem that has recently developed is due to the human papilloma virus or HPV 16 which has increased the rates of oral cancers, in particular those affecting the back of the mouth, the base of the tongue and the tonsils. Cancer in these locations often won’t produce any visible discolorations or lesions that typically indicate this disease. All too frequently oral cancer will only be properly diagnosed when it has metastasized to another location, most often the lymph nodes in the neck, by which time the overall prognosis is significantly worse. One of the things makes oral cancer particularly dangerous is that the early stages can often go unnoticed, producing very few if any symptoms or pain.
Regular Oral Cancer Screenings at Midtown Dentistry
There isn’t a comprehensive program in place to screen for this cancer and it’s highly likely that the only person who regularly examines the inside of your mouth is your dentist. All dentists are trained to spot the early symptoms of this disease, and here at Midtown Dentistry we regularly screen all patients for any signs or symptoms. This is a quick check of all your oral tissues including your tongue and we will gently feel your neck to check the lymph nodes. If this disease is detected at a precancerous stage then it’s quite straightforward to treat. As a result treatment costs will be lower, treatment time will be decreased and the entire process will be less invasive. If detected early enough, the five-year survival rate increases to 82.7%. So what are the factors that increase the risk of this disease?
Risk factors include:
• Tobacco use
• Being exposed to the human papilloma virus, which is the same virus associated with cervical cancer in women
• Using alcohol to excess
In the past this disease used to be more prevalent in older men and women, but now one third of oral cancer is diagnosed in patients younger than 55 and one in seven patients are younger than 40. Around a quarter of those diagnosed with this disease will have no known risk factors.
What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
There are a number of signs that you can look out for in between your regular screenings at Midtown Dentistry and these include:
• Having a canker sore or another type of lesion that fails to heal after a couple of weeks
• Noticing colour changes on the inside of your mouth as you may develop patches that are white or red
• Noticing you have a lump or rough patch of skin inside your mouth
• Your teeth may fit together slightly differently from before and dentures may fit less well
• Painful tongue
• Having difficulty chewing or swallowing
We urge anyone who is worried about oral cancer and who thinks they may have some of these the symptoms to contact us as soon as possible. It’s unlikely that it is oral cancer but we’d far rather check now, just in case.