Detecting oral cancer early can nearly double your chances of survival. Approximately 3 per cent of all cancers diagnosed in 2015 involved the mouth or back of the throat.
April is oral cancer awareness month and the Oral Cancer Foundation would like to invite you to join them in their national screening campaign to end oral cancer. The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that approximately 48,250 Americans will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer this year.
Cancer can affect any part of the oral cavity, including the lips, tongue, mouth or throat. There are two kinds of oral cancer: oral cavity cancer and oropharyngeal cancer, and often the earliest signs are missed or mistaken for other problems such as a toothache or cold. Oral cancer is not rare, and screening should be considered just as important as testing for cervical, prostate and breast cancer.
Oral cancer has the lowest survival rate because it is typically painless in its early stages and goes unnoticed by the sufferer until it spreads, leading to chronic pain and sometimes loss of function before it is diagnosed. However, the good news is that in many cases, your physician or dentist can see or feel tissue changes or the actual cancer while it is still very small or in its earliest stages.
The Oral Cancer Foundation sites the following simple facts:
- One hundred people in the US will be diagnosed with oral cancer every day;
- One person every hour of the day will die from oral cancer.
- The likelihood of developing oral cancer increases with age and is diagnosed most often in adults between the ages of 55 and 64, but is now occurring more frequently in those under this age.
- Men tend to be at greater risk for oral cancer than women.
- Tobacco use accounts for most oral cancers. Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes, and chewing tobacco are all linked to oral cancer.
- People who drink alcohol (more than four drinks a day) are more likely to develop oral cancer than those who don’t.
- Spending long periods in the sun has been associated with lip cancer. Using a lotion or lip balm that has a sunscreen can reduce the risk.
- Human papilloma virus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted.
- Eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of developing oral cancer.
Some of the most common symptoms and signs of oral cancer include:
- White or red (or a mixture) patches inside the mouth or on the lips
- Non-healing mouth/lip sore
- Bleeding in the mouth
- High degree of tooth mobility
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing, chewing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
- Jaw swelling that leads to ill-fitting dentures
- A lump or growth in the throat or neck
- Pain, tenderness or numbness on the lips, tongue or elsewhere in the mouth
- Hoarseness or other changes in voice
- Cough or sore throat that will not go away, or the feeling that something is caught in the throat that does not go away
Anyone with these symptoms should see their doctor or dentist so that any problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Most often, these symptoms do not mean cancer. An infection or another problem can cause the same symptoms. If you have symptoms that suggest oral cancer, request an examination and/or screening from your doctor or dentist. The screening is usually quick and painless.
Your doctor or dentist may refer you to a specialist. Specialists who treat oral cancer include oral and maxillofacial surgeons, otolaryngologists, medical oncologists, ear, nose & throat physicians, and plastic surgeons. Treatment options would depend on the cancer’s stage of development. Patients treated in their early stages may have little in the way of post-treatment disfigurement. For those whose cancer is caught at a later stage, it can lead to facial and oral disfigurement after surgery. Surgery can include removal of a portion of the tongue, jaw or facial features. It is important to detect oral cancer as early as possible when it can be treated more successfully and increase chances of recovery.
If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss this with your doctor or dentist and remember to ask about oral cancer screening at your next visit to the dentist. Most people receive oral cancer screening during their regular dental check-up but do not realise it. Make oral cancer screening part of all of your regular yearly check-ups.