Early Detection Key to Oral Cancer Survival
April is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month, a time when the dental community rallies together to fight against a serious disease. While some may think this cancer is rare, nearly 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. It will cause over 8,000 deaths, roughly one person per hour, every hour of the day.
Public awareness about this serious disease and its risk factors is imperative to saving lives. As dentists, my fellow doctors and I are in a unique position to perform head and neck exams and oral screenings every day that can help us identify abnormalities in the mouth at the earliest stage.
Early Detection is Key
When found early, oral cancers have an 80 to 90 percent survival rate. Unfortunately, most oral cancer is discovered at later stages of development, resulting in an unnecessarily high death rate.
Dentists can be a first line of defense in identifying abnormalities in the mouth, which could be a sign of oral cancer. Many people do not realize that oral cancer screenings are a routine part of a more extensive exam performed during routine visits to the dentist.
Do You Know the Signs of Oral Cancer?
The symptoms of oral cancer include:
- Sores in the mouth that bleed easily or do not heal
- A thick or hard spot or lump
- A roughened or crusted area
- Numbness, pain or tenderness
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down
- Make sure to talk to your dentist immediately if you notice the above symptoms in yourself or a loved one.
There are two main risk factors for oral cancer. Smoking and tobacco use are long-term historic causes of oral cancer. In addition, the HPV-16 virus, a sexually-transmitted disease, is resulting in the fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients being young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals. This is why it’s more important than ever for all adults to have an oral cancer screening.