April 8th-15th marks Oral Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week, a time dedicated to raising awareness of cancer of the mouth that affects about 50,000 people in the United States every year. This is a good time to gain a better understanding of this disease, what it looks like, and how it can be prevented or caught early with an oral cancer screening.
At Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart Dental Associates, “an oral cancer screening is a quick and painless part of your ordinary dental examination,” says Dr. John Reckner, F.A.G.D. “Although we perform cancer screenings all year long, in April we support OralCancerCause.org, a national foundation that helps patients and their families undergoing treatment for oral cancer.”
If you ever have any suspicious bumps or sores that do not go away after two weeks, it’s time to get it checked out. Early detection is possible in many cases of oral cancer and enables the cancer to be removed before it has a chance to spread throughout the body. Here is what you should know about this type of cancer and how you can protect yourself and your loved ones.
What Is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is a broad term that refers to any cancer that begins around the mouth. This type of cancer can affect:
- Soft and hard palate of the mouth
- Floor of the mouth
What Are the Warning Signs and Symptoms?
Depending on where the cancer develops, you may notice any of these warning signs.
- Sore throat or feeling like something is stuck at the back of your throat. This can be a sign of tongue cancer or throat cancer.
- Hoarseness or changes in your voice
- Difficulty swallowing, chewing, or moving your jaw or tongue can indicate tongue cancer.
- A persistent sore around your face, mouth, or neck that has not healed after 2 weeks.
- Numbness, tenderness, or loss of sensation around the mouth, face, or neck.
- Unexplained oral bleeding.
- Patches in the mouth that may be white, red, or a combination.
- Bumps, swollen areas, lumps, or rough areas inside the mouth or on the gums or lips.
Are You At Risk of Mouth Cancer?
There are two main factors that greatly increase your risk of oral and throat cancer: tobacco and alcohol use. However, even if you do not smoke or drink, you can still develop oral cancer. These are the factors that can increase your risk of developing oral cancer:
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol use
- HPV virus infection
- Prolonged sun exposure increases the risk of cancer of the lip
- Poor oral hygiene, especially when combined with tobacco and alcohol
- Poor diet/nutrition
How Can Cancer of the Mouth Be Prevented?
The most important thing you can do to reduce our risk is quitting all tobacco products. Using tobacco raises your risk of oral and throat cancer, but quitting can dramatically lower this risk, even if you have used tobacco for years!
It’s important to conduct oral self exams every month. Use a mirror and a bright left to check your gums, the insides of your lips, the lining of your cheeks, the back of your gums, and the roof and floor of your mouth. Check for suspicious patches, sores, inflammation, or other changes. If you notice anything that doesn’t look right, call your dentist immediately, even if you are not experiencing pain.
Regular dental exams are also crucial in the prevention and detection of cancer of the mouth. Protecting your oral health reduces a major risk factor for cancer. It also helps your dentist spot any changes in your mouth before they become serious and life-threatening.
Early Detection Saves Lives!
Among people who are newly diagnosed with mouth cancer, 40% do not live past five years and many are left with severe disfigurement and difficulty speaking and eating. The death rate for cancers of the mouth remain so high because many of these cancers are not found until they have become advanced.
When oral and throat cancer is detected early, there is a much higher risk of surviving without serious long-term effects. Many of these cancers can be found early when they are still small with a routine screening exam by a dentist. Early detection saves lives and remains the best way to reduce disfigurement.
Cancer of the mouth can affect anyone, regardless of age and smoking or drinking habits. Schedule an appointment with Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart Dental Associates today to get your oral cancer screening and protect your health.