Oral Cancer Prevention and Detection
Oral cancer is a common form of cancer, with roughly 35,000 new cases reported annually in the United States. The most frequent oral cancer sites are the tongue, the floor of the mouth, the soft palate, and the tissues in the lips, gums, and back of the tongue. If not diagnosed and treated in its early stages, oral cancer can spread, leading to chronic pain, loss of oral function, irreparable oral and facial disfigurement following surgery, and even death. For this reason, it is important to regularly visit your dentist so he or she can perform a thorough screening for oral cancer.
During routine dental checkups, your dentist will screen for oral cancer by feeling for lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, cheeks, and oral cavity, and will thoroughly examine the soft tissues in you mouth, specifically looking for sores or discolored tissues.
Scientists aren’t sure of the exact cause of oral cancer. However, the carcinogens in tobacco products and alcohol have been found to increase the risk of developing oral cancer. Therefore, you can help prevent oral cancer by abstaining from all forms of tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption.
Oral cancer – represented by red, white, or discolored lesions and patches or lumps in and around the mouth – is typically painless in its early stages. As the malignant cancer spreads and destroys healthy oral tissue, the lesions or lumps may become more painful. See your dentist immediately if you observe any sore that persists longer than two weeks; a swelling, growth, or lump anywhere in or about the mouth or neck; white or red patches in the mouth or on the lips; repeated bleeding from the mouth or throat; difficulty swallowing; or persistent hoarseness.
Because successful treatment and rehabilitation are dependent on early detection, it is extremely important to regularly check your mouth for changes in appearance and see your dentist for an oral cancer screening and regular checkup at least every six months. Survival rates greatly increase the earlier oral cancer is discovered and treated.