What are the Risk Factors and Why it is Important Your Dentist Does a Screening at Your Appointments
Oral Cancer is the sixth most common cancer and makes up almost 4 % of all cancers. It has a death rate higher than other cancers you may hear more about, such as cervical cancer and melanoma. Close to 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year, up from 43,000 in 2014, causing over 9,575 deaths – This is about 1 death from Oral Cancer per hour.
Why is Oral Cancer so deadly? It can develop and grow without many symptoms or pain, so it often is undetected by the patient. This leads to many oral cancers being discovered in late stages.
What causes oral cancer? Are you at risk?
- One of the biggest causes of Oral Cancer is tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes can cause cancers in the mouth, lips and other parts of the body. Smokeless tobaccos can lead to cancer of the cheeks, gums and lips.
- Heavy drinking, as defined by the CDC as on average 2 or more drinks a day, increases your risk factor for Oral Cancer significantly.
- And people who both smoke and drink heavily have a 15 times higher risk than others of developing a form of Oral Cancer.
- HPV, the Human Papilloma Virus, is a sexually transmitted disease and has been definitively linked with oral cancers, particularly those that occur at the back of the mouth. The body’s immune system is able to fight the HPV virus and it is only in a small portion of the population that lack the correct immune response to HPV who will develop Oral Cancer from the virus.
- Excessive sunlight exposure can cause increased risk of cancer developing on the lips, but these numbers have been declining.
Prevention and Oral Cancer Screening
If you have a high risk factor due to tobacco use and excessive drinking, the most effective act of prevention is to quit any tobacco habits and reduce your alcohol consumption. 90% of people who develop Oral Cancer are tobacco users.
Oral Cancer Screenings should be a regular part of your dental exam when you are visiting your dentist for routine hygiene, regular oral health checks or any other procedure. If you have dentures, even though you will not need regular teeth cleanings, it is still important to see your dentist for regular oral health screenings. Your dentist will check all soft tissue areas of your mouth: gums, the palate, floor of the mouth, sides of the tongue, cheeks and the oropharynx.
Early detection is very important for Oral Cancers and will save lives! Make sure you check your own mouth regularly and make an appointment with your dentist should you find:
- a red or white patch
- a sore spot that bleeds easily or does not heal
- a thick or hard spot or lump
- a rough or crusted area
- areas in the mouth with numbness, pain or tenderness
- any spot that is oddly shaped and growing
- any problems when chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw.
Your dentist should take photographs and record any suspected lesions or sore spots. If you have abnormalities in your mouth and neck, you should choose to have check up appointments sooner than the usual six months so that any changes can be compared and action taken quickly if necessary. Your dentist will not be able to diagnose Oral Cancer, but can refer you for a biopsy for any areas which do not heal or become worse.
Please always feel free to talk with Dr. Swenda or Maria about any concerns you have about your Oral Health and any risk factors you may have for Oral Cancer.
Awareness, Prevention and Early Detection are key components in our battle against Oral Cancer.