Dental hygiene, self-examination and routine screenings are all crucial to our overall health, not only because they help to ward off cavities and gum disease but also because neglecting to do so can dramatically increase your risk of suffering from and eventually succumbing to more dangerous conditions such as oral cancer. Despite the common belief that oral cancer is rare, it is in actuality the sixth most commonly occurring form of cancer and is newly diagnosed in upwards of 42,000 individuals in the United States alone each year. The unfortunate truth is, while the number of oral cancer diagnoses continues to increase, the survival rate has shown no signs of improvement for years. In fact, the five year survival rate for oral cancer is no more than 50 percent.
While these statistics are indeed intimidating, there is reason to believe that patient prognoses could be greatly improved with earlier detection. Due to the often subtle symptoms associated with oral cancer, many patients do not seek medical attention early enough to obtain the treatments necessary for survival. The hope is that with frequent, improved screenings, more and more cases will be successfully detected and treated in the early stages of the cancer.
As with many conditions, everyone has the potential risk of developing oral cancer. However, certain factors have been known to increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Individuals at particular risk include men, people over 50 years of age, smokers and other users of tobacco products, those exposed to large amounts of sun early in life, and heavy drinkers.
Patients are encouraged to examine their mouth, throat, neck, and lips on a monthly basis for unexplained sore areas, white or red spots, thickening skin, and lumps. Additionally, a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, or a raspy voice can a red flag as well. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, do not hesitate to call and schedule an appointment for an examination of your neck and oral tissue.
If the event that abnormal tissue is seen, a biopsy is the next step. This procedure will allow the medical professionals to determine whether you have oral cancer or are showing signs of pre-cancer. If oral cancer is the confirmed diagnosis, the typical treatment regimen can include radiation, chemotherapy, surgery or any combination thereof. The type of treatment you receive will be determined by your oncologist and will largely depend upon the location and severity of the disease.
While it is doubtless frightening to hear that you have cancer, keep in mind that frequent self-examination and regular screenings can go a long way towards a successful diagnosis and timely treatment. Ask your dentist at your next appointment about receiving an oral cancer screening and remember to examine your mouth and throat monthly. Doing so just might save your life one day.