The month of April is known as National Oral Cancer Awareness Month, yet despite being one of the deadliest forms of cancer, public awareness for this cancer is at an all time low. Because the public is not aware of all the signs, symptoms, and risks associated with oral cancer, many delay getting treatment until the cancer is in the later stages and has spread into other areas of the body. Like with all forms of cancers, the earlier the disease is detected, the higher the survival rate. Because of this, it’s more important than ever to schedule regular appointments with your dentists.
While oral cancer can happen in anyone, those who smoke or chew tobacco are at a much higher risk of developing the condition than those who don’t. Using tobacco products alone makes up for about 75% of all cases. In addition to tobacco products, drinking alcohol on a regular basis also increases the odds developing the cancer. These odds increase even more if the drinker is also a smoker.
One of the most common misconceptions about oral cancer is that it can only form on the lips or tongue. While cancer does often grow in these area, oral cancer can also be found on the cheeks, hard and soft palates, throat, sinuses, behind the teeth, and on the floor of the mouth.
The symptoms of oral cancer may also be hard for a person to detect on their own. These symptoms include bleeding, red or white patches in the mouth, numbness or pain in the face, neck, or mouth area, swelling, ear pain, sore throat, or weight loss. Because many of these symptoms can occur in other more common situations, such as having the flu or a toothache, many patients put off seeking dental care until the cancer has spread. As the cancer progresses, the chance of survival go down dramatically.
The best way to prevent this from occurring is to visit a dentist regularly. All dentists are trained in detecting oral cancer in the earliest stages, usually even before the patient knows something is wrong. Dentists will also be able to test if a suspicious area in the mouth is benign or not. This is done with a painless oral brush biopsy. The dentist will take a small sample of the tissue from the suspicious area, then test it for abnormal cell growth. Once the tests come back, the patient will know if the area is cancerous or not. If the area is cancerous, surgery or chemotherapy can be performed.