Cancer is never a pleasant topic. Yet, rather than wish it away, many people have chosen to take an active and positive role in the prevention and early detection of the disease. Did you know that you and your dentist, working together, can help identify a major class of cancers in the early stages? Let’s spend a few moments discussing oral cancer.
Oral cancer is dangerous. Although it accounts for a relatively small percentage of all cancers, it isn’t usually detected until it has reached a late stage. And at that point, the odds aren’t great: only 58% survive 5 years after treatment, a rate far less than that of many better-known cancers. It is estimated that in the United States, this disease kills one person every hour, every day.
Oral cancer used to be thought of as an older person’s disease — and it still primarily strikes those over 40 years of age. But a disturbing number of young people have been diagnosed with the illness in recent years, making them the fastest-growing segment among oral cancer patients. This is due to the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV16). So, while long-time tobacco users and heavy drinkers still need screenings, most young people do too.
What’s the good news? When it’s detected early, the survival rate of oral cancer goes up to 80% or better. And having an oral cancer screening is part of doing something you should be doing anyway — getting regular dental checkups. That’s one more reason why coming in to our office regularly for your routine examination is so important.
Of course, if you notice any abnormal sores or color changes in the tissue around your mouth, lips, tongue or throat — especially if they don’t go away in 2-3 weeks — come in and see us right away. They could be just cold sores — or not.
An oral cancer exam is fast and painless. It involves a visual inspection of the mouth and surrounding area (face, lips, throat, etc.), during which we may also feel for lumps. We’ll also gently pull your tongue from side to side, and check underneath it for early signs of a problem. If needed, we can schedule a biopsy for any suspicious areas. Sound easy? It is! So don’t ignore it — remember that early detection could save your life.