April is used to celebrate a lot of month-long observances, including National Soft Pretzel Month and International Guitar Month. But as wonderful as both soft pretzels and guitars are, their importance pales in comparison to oral cancer awareness, which we try to spread in the month of April.
Are you familiar with this deadly disease? According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), an estimated 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer EVERY YEAR and 9,000 U.S. citizens will die from this horrifying disease.
What is Oral Cancer?
There are many types of oral cancer. The term refers to any cancer located in the oral cavity. Oral cancer is most commonly found on the tongue, but can also occur on the
- Cheeks, or
- Floor of the mouth.
Oral cancer can even take hold in the throat or sinus cavity.
But just like cancers elsewhere in the body, oral cancer can be deadly. Nearly 3% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States are oral cancers, and they make up a little over 1.5% of all cancer deaths. That’s nearly 10,000 deaths per year — one per hour, nonstop.
The good news is, if oral cancer is caught in the early stages, there is a very high recovery rate. In order to recognize oral cancer early enough to treat it, it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms.
Recognize the Symptoms of Oral Cancer
It’s important to perform a self-examination every month to catch any signs of oral cancer before it gets worse. Using a bright light and a mirror, check your cheek, tongue, the inside of your lips, and gums for:
- Sores, lumps, or swollen areas in the mouth or throat
- Abnormal lumps
- A mass or lump in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain, soreness, or numbness in the mouth, tongue, or throat
- Feeling like a lump is stuck in the throat
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- White or red lesions in the mouth
- Loose teeth
If you’ve noticed these symptoms, it’s critical to contact your family dentist as soon as possible for an oral cancer screening.
Know The Risk Factors
Everyone is at risk for oral cancer. Whether you’re in your early 20’s or an active 40-year-old, you’re just as likely to get oral cancer. However, some factors increase your chances of getting oral cancer, including:
- Smoking and chewing tobacco
- Excessive drinking
- Exposure to HPV (Human papillomavirus)
- Poor oral hygiene
- Poor diet
- Physical trauma
If any of these factors apply to you, consider changing your habits to lower your chances of oral cancer.
There are also habits and lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of oral cancer. Tobacco use is the habit most directly responsible for high oral cancer risk: The vast majority of people with oral cancer (90%) consume tobacco in some form, be that cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or chewing tobacco. Add alcohol into the mix and that risk increases even further.
But while avoiding tobacco and alcohol can seriously decrease your risk, it can’t completely protect you. Age, eating habits, sun exposure, and HPV are also linked to higher likelihood of contracting oral cancer.
How Your Dentist Can Help?
Your dentist can reduce your cancer risk in many ways. Oral cancer risk is tied not only to HPV, but also to gum disease. And if you have sleep apnea, it could accelerate the growth of tumors. Your dentist can help you get comfortable, convenient sleep apnea treatment.
You may not know this, but when your dentist performs a standard cleaning or checkup, they’re doing more than clearing plaque off your teeth. Your dentist also performs an oral cancer screening when you come in for an appointment. A dentist is well equipped to check for lesions or sores while you’re in the dentist’s chair.
It’s important to see your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings anyway, to prevent decay and clear that plaque that you can’t manage at home with just your floss and toothbrush. But on top of all that, making sure you don’t skip your regular checkups is important to catching oral cancer early, before it has time to get worse.
Oral Cancer Awareness Month: Get screened
Getting regular screenings performed by your general dentist puts you in the best position to detect oral cancer in its early stages. This is just one more critical reason to keep up with your checkups and cleanings twice a year!
Talk to your dentist about your oral cancer risk, and how your lifestyle may or may not be contributing to it. If you’re looking for a Bronx dentist, call (917) 962-9990 or contact us online to make an appointment.
In honor of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, help us spread the word by sharing this blog post. It could save a life!