April is National Oral Cancer Awareness month. Oral cancer is the largest group of cancers that fall into the head and neck cancer category. These types of cancer can develop in the cheeks, lips, gums, tongue, throat (at the back of the mouth), tonsils and roof of the mouth. According to The Oral Cancer Foundation approximately 45,750 people in the US alone will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2015. This is the 8th year in a row in which there has been an increase in the rate of occurrences. While some people think oral cancers are rare, about 115 new cases will be diagnosed each day in the US, and one person will die each hour of every day from oral cancer.
Many times oral cancers can be prevented with certain lifestyle measures. While no one is exempt, those most at risk include people who smoke, drink excessive alcohol, have HPV (Human Papilloma Virus, also known to cause cervical cancer), overexposure to sunlight, those age 55+, and are male. Poor oral hygiene and gum disease have also been implicated as risk factors. Some studies even suggest that diets low in fruits and vegetables can elevate cancer risk.
When oral cancer is detected in the early stages patients have a survival rate of 80-90%. Unfortunately at this time, the majority of oral cancer cases are found in later stages of development greatly reducing the survival rate to around 43% at 5 years from diagnosis. Late stage diagnosis is not occurring because oral cancers are hard to diagnose, it’s mostly because of lack of public awareness coupled with lack of routine screenings.
Because early detection is key to survival, it is important to see your dentist regularly. Dr. Glass and Cindie perform an oral cancer screening each time you visit our office for your routine dental cleaning and exam. We are able to take the screening process one step further with ViziLite Plus. The ViziLite Plus exam is a painless screening that we can perform in just a few minutes. ViziLite Plus uses a light source to improve the examiners ability to detect abnormalities that will require further evaluation. It often picks up lesions that would have been difficult to detect under normal lighting. We recommend a ViziLite exam for all of our patients who fall under a higher risk category, but with 25% of oral cancers occurring in people who don’t smoke and who have no other risk factors, everyone can benefit from the screening annually. Make sure we are aware of your health history including tobacco or alcohol use and if you have been diagnosed with HPV.
In between dental visits you can perform a self exam, use a mirror to take a close look at your lips, gums, insides of the cheeks, tongue, back of the throat, and floor and roof of the mouth. Call us if you find sores especially those that bleed easily, any color changes particularly those that present as red or white patches, loose teeth or a change in how teeth fit together, mouth pain that doesn’t improve, a persistent sore throat or feeling that something is stuck in your throat, problems chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue or a feeling of a mass in your throat or neck that persists for more than two weeks.