Oral cancer is something we all need to know about as over 56,000 North Americans will be diagnosed this year, and of those, nearly 11,000 will die because of it. The key is to catch it in its early stages and begin treatment immediately.
When we talk about oral cancer, we are including cancer of the soft tissues of the tongue, cheek, tonsils, soft palate, pharynx, lips, and salivary glands.
The most commons symptoms of oral cancer may include:
- swollen lumps or bumps inside the mouth and on the gums
- red or white patches in the mouth
- bleeding or numbness in any area of the mouth or neck
- sores that last longer than two weeks
- difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw
- ear pain
- persistent cough
- breathing problems
- voice changes (hoarseness usually)
- a change in how teeth fit together.
Like any other health concerns, changes in your mouth should not be ignored. If you’re experiencing anything out of the ordinary, contact us, your dentist in Battle Creek, for an oral cancer screening to investigate.
7 Known Causes Of Oral Cancer
There are several risk factors that can drastically increase your chances of oral cancer. They’re both physiological and habitual in nature.
- Weak Immune System – People with weak immune systems are at a higher risk of oral cancer. Your immune system may become weak after an organ transplant or if you suffer from autoimmune disease (e.g. multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn’s, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, vitiligo, psoriasis, alopecia, etc.).
- Tobacco – Whether you smoke it or chew it, tobacco use increases the likelihood of developing oral cancer by six times.
- Diet – If your diet lacks fruits and veggies, you could be at a higher risk of developing oral cancer. Try to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains which are all main sources of vitamins and fibre. Other preventative measures include consuming micronutrients like vitamins C and E, antioxidants, zinc, beta-carotene, and folate.
- Alcohol – The more alcohol you consume, the more your risk increases. Alcohol helps harmful chemicals enter the cells that line the mouth, throat, and esophagus. If you drink and smoke at the same time, your risk increases even more.
- Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) – This virus infects the cells at the base of the tongue and of the throat, and when it does, it introduces a greater risk of oral cancer development. Symptoms can be subtle and painless.
- Prior cancer survivor – If you have had cancer before, for a certain range of time, there is a greater chance of developing cancer again. Your general practitioner or cancer specialist will be able to provide more information to you based on your unique situation.
- Sun exposure – Sun exposure increases the risk of developing lip cancer. This is especially true for fair-skinned people or people who spend a lot of time outside on a daily basis – gardeners, golfers, construction workers, etc. When you do anticipate sun exposure, use sunscreen, wear a hat that shades your face, and apply (often) a lip balm with SPF.
Oral Cancer Statistics
- twice as high in men as in women
- eighth most common cancer among men
- average age of diagnosis is 62
- about 25% of cases occur in people younger than 55 (rare in children)
- 5-year survival rate is 65%
- when diagnosed early, 5-year survival rate is 84%
- if metastasized, 5-year survival rate is 39%.
Oral Cancer Self-Check
Did you know that at every recare visit you have with us, we complete an oral cancer exam and can thoroughly check your face, head, and neck? During the exam, we’ll check all the soft tissues: under your tongue and your tongue itself, your cheeks, your gums, the roof of your mouth (your palate – both soft and hard), and your throat. We’re looking for discoloration (red or white areas), lumps, and rough spots). We may ask you questions about whether you experience numbness or unusual bleeding. About whether you’ve had a change in your voice (any hoarseness), or if you’ve had any changes in your ability to eat – swallowing, chewing, how your teeth fit together, or moving your jaw.
But one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is to ensure you complete a monthly oral cancer check at home. Here’s how to do it:
6-Step At-Home Monthly Oral Cancer Check
Ensure you have good lighting (it helps to have a flashlight), a good-sized mirror, and that you don’t rush. Be patient and really pay attention so that month-to-month, you will notice any changes should they occur.
- If you wear dentures, full or partial, remove them.
- Lips & Front Gums (in the smile zone) – Look and feel for any changes.
- Roof of your mouth – Shine light on the roof of your mouth to observe the surface, and then feel with your index finger (arguably the finger that is the most sensitive to touch) for any changes in texture. Use a very light touch.
- Cheeks & Gums at back on mouth – Pull your cheeks out and observe the inner cheek and then feel them, searching for any change in consistency, rough spots, bumps, or lumps. While your cheeks are retracted, look at your gums – top and bottom. Run your finger lightly over them to check texture.
- Tongue – Use a washcloth to pull your tongue forward and visually check top and bottom plus the floor of your mouth. Any changes?
- Lymph Nodes – On the outside of your face, feel under your jaw and on both sides of your neck for any lymph node enlargement. If they are swollen, don’t panic as they can swell when they’re fighting off a minor virus like a cold.
If you notice any deviation from the norm, keep an eye on it, and if it’s still there afer two weeks, give us a call. We’ll check it out.
Oral Cancer Screenings
At Battle Creek Family Dentistry, oral cancer checks are an important part of our treatment protocol. We want to help you achieve and sustain optimal oral health. Call us at 269-841-5049. We always welcome new patients!