This year, nearly 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer, and over 9,000 people will die from this harrowing disease. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is that many of these cases could have been prevented through regular dental check-ups, cleanings and screenings. Without a doubt, oral cancer is a scary subject to tackle, but the more you know about its risks and symptoms, the more equipped you’ll be to take preventative action. Below are some key facts and ideas that explain exactly what oral cancer is, as well as what you can do to help lower your risk of developing this disease.
What is Oral Cancer?
Like any other cancer, the root cause of oral cancer is abnormal cell growth. When the cells in or around the mouth don’t grow or divide properly, they can produce abnormal tissue formations such as tumors, which can begin to spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body. There are two primary types of oral cancer: oral cavity cancer, which spreads outward from the mouth, and oropharyngeal cancer, which spreads outward from the throat.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
- Lumps, rough spots, swelling, or bumps on the gums, lips, or other areas inside of the mouth
- Sores on the face, neck or mouth that tend to bleed easily, and remain there for weeks at a time without healing
- Unexplained bleeding in the throat or mouth
- Pain, tenderness, numbness, or loss of feeling in the mouth, face or neck
- Persistent discomfort or outright soreness in the back of the throat
- Abnormal weight loss
- Pain in the ears
- Unexplained laryngitis or hoarseness
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking
- Red or white patches inside the mouth
- Teeth that begin to feel loose, even though no injury was sustained
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
- Tobacco Use: Persistent use of any type of tobacco product (e.g., cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff, etc.) can greatly increase your risk of developing oral cancer.
- Alcohol Use: Heavy alcohol consumption boosts your risk profile as well. This risk is compounded if you are a heavy drinker and tobacco user. According to research published by the National Cancer Institute, 75% of people with oral cancer have used tobacco, alcohol or both.
- Exposure to the Sun: Enjoying the sunlight is a good thing, but you have to be mindful to protect your lips with some type of SPF lip balm or sunblock. Excessive sun exposure to this very sensitive area can put you at a greater risk of developing oral cancer.
- HPV (Human Papillomavirus) Infection: Some oral cancers are linked to infections caused by the HPV virus.
Oral Cancer Prevention: What You Can Do
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. The best defense against the development of oral cancer is to stay on top of your dental health by scheduling regular cleanings every six months. At West Chester Dental Group, our team of dental professionals has years of experience in performing thorough oral cancer screenings, with an emphasis on early detection and prevention. We utilize state-of-the-art VELscope technology to help us uncover symptoms that might not be visible to the naked eye, so that we can be proactive in developing a results-focused treatment plan. Your best bet against the dangers of oral cancer is to continue getting your routine dental cleanings and check-ups, so be sure to contact West Chester Dental Group today to schedule your next appointment. Here’s to greater oral health!