Everyone knows about cancer, but usually the more notable varieties: breast, colon, lung, skin, etc. But since we’re all about the health of your mouth at Gentle Dental, we keep an eye out for oral cancer. And it shouldn’t be an afterthought anyway — oral cancer is the #11 cause of cancer mortality.
Unlike, say, lung cancer, which is found only in the lungs, oral cancer can occur all through the mouth area. This form of cancer includes cancer of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, and the hard palate. If caught early, it can usually be successfully treated. But that’s the important word, early.
Oral cancer screening is a part of every office visit at Gentle Dental. It’s the part of our exams where we lift your tongue, check your glands, and the like. But if you don’t come in for regular checkups and cleanings how can we spot these cancers?
Not just smokers get oral cancer
Many people believe that if they don’t smoke they don’t need to worry about oral cancer. But 25% of oral cancers occur in people who don’t smoke. The trend recently is that more and more young patients are developing oral cancer due to the human papilloma virus (HPV). You may have heard of this virus in connection with cervical cancer, but it also greatly increases the risk of oral cancer.
Catching it early is key
So, why do we look for oral cancer every time a patient opens his mouth in our offices? Because early diagnosis is key to survival.
These are the survival rates by the stage: Stage 1 = 80-85%, Stage 2 = 60-75%, Stage 3 = 35-66%, Stage 4 = 15-30%.
When discovered early, the five-year survival rate for oral cancer patients is about 83%. Unfortunately, most oral cancers are discovered in later stages, usually due to patients skipping regular dental exams.
Symptoms to watch for
Men account for 70% or oral cancer cases, especially men over the age of 50. These are the most common symptoms of oral cancer, and any of these should be attended to if you develop the symptom.
- A soreness or feeling that something is continually caught in the back of your throat
- Swelling, lumps, bumps, rough spots/crusts on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth.
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth.
- Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that don’t heal within two weeks.
- Numbness, loss of feeling, or pain/tenderness in any area of the face, mouth, neck, or ear.
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, moving the jaw or tongue.
- Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, change in voice
- Lump in the neck
- Dramatic weight loss
How we check for oral cancer at Gentle Dental
Ever wonder why we look under your tongue, push on the glands under your jawline, and check for bumps on your lips and in your mouth? It’s all part of our screening for oral cancer. At Gentle Dental, our dentists and hygienists feel for lumps or irregular tissue changes in the mouth, head, face, and neck. We look for sores or discolored tissue, and inquire about any of the symptoms we list above.
Have you been skipping your twice-yearly cleanings thinking that you’d save a few bucks? Not only does that increase your chances of developing dental issues such as gum disease, but it also increases your chances of progressing to later stage oral cancer without us being able to catch it.