All the news surrounding the coronavirus has led to a decrease in awareness for oral cancer. Much like Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, Oral Cancer Awareness month reminds people to take their examinations seriously and to get them regularly. Detecting cancer early saves lives! The month of April is a time where dental professionals and other medical professionals discuss the dangers of oral cancer and highlight the progress made in fighting the disease.
Cancer of the mouth is referred to as oral cancer, and cancer of the pharynx (back of the throat) is referred to as pharyngeal cancer. Your dentist and dental professionals are considered your first line of diagnosis and defense of oral cancer and pharyngeal cancer. Make sure you are discussing this with your hygienist and dentist at your next checkup!
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, the mortality rate from oral and pharyngeal cancers is about 43% five years after diagnosis. This is particularly high because these cancers are discovered late in their development. Oral Cancer Awareness month promotes regular oral screenings so that these types of cancers can be detected and treated early which will help reduce mortality rates.
There are many early warning signs that your mouth can predict if you know what you are looking for. Breast Cancer Awareness month reminds individuals that while they should be going to the doctor for their screenings, they should be giving themselves a self-examination once a month. This same concept applies to Oral Health Awareness month. Between your dental visits, you should take it upon yourself to identify symptoms and signs that may be associated with your oral health. If these symptoms do not improve or disappear after two-three weeks then you should seek a dental professional:
- White or red patches
- Pain, numbness, or tenderness on the lips and mouth
- A sore that will not go away
- Irritation or soreness that does not go away
- Change in your bite and how your teeth fit together with your mouth is closed
- Thickening tissues, lumps, rough spots, eroded or crusty areas
- Difficulty chewing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty moving tongue or jaw
Make sure to take note of when you start experiencing symptoms like these. It’s always a good idea to call your dentist if you have any immediate concerns, especially if they have lasted longer than two or three weeks.
We are constantly searching and striving to understand the origins of oral cancer especially since it is such a complex issue. According to The Mayo Clinic, there are some behaviors that place individuals at a greater risk of contracting oral cancer and pharyngeal cancer:
- Smoked and smokeless tobacco is known for causing cancer. Smokeless tobacco can cause mouth, esophagus, and throat cancer.
- Alcohol combined with tobacco greatly increases the risk of contracting oral cancer.
- Sun Exposure
- Too much sun exposure can put you at risk of lip cancer.
- You are at a greater risk of contracting one of these cancers by not eating enough fruits and vegetables.
- HPV (Human papillomavirus)
- The leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer is HPV 16
- Victims of oral cancer are typically aged 40 and over
Understanding the causes of these cancers helps us understand the direction we need to take to help lower risks of developing it.
- Stop smoking or using smokeless tobacco. All forms of tobacco should be cut out.
- Never combine tobacco with alcohol use, and try to only drink moderately.
- Use sunscreens and lip balms with a high SPF (Sun Protection Formula) and try limiting your exposure to the sun.
- Include more natural foods like fruits and vegetables in your diet.
Alongside these prevention methods, it is important to brush, floss, and visit your dentist regularly. Exercising often can also help you maintain a healthy immune system.
Early detection offers a chance for oral cancer to be treated effectively. The best course of action is to combine the help of multiple doctors with different skill sets including: dentist, oncologists, surgeons, and nutritionists. There are a few different therapy methods that can help fight oral cancer including:
There is no such thing as “minor cancer” and receiving a diagnosis of cancer has many emotional aspects. Detecting it early can increase your chances of successful treatment and recovery. We want to raise awareness this April, especially since there is a lack of discussion about it due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. While we are practicing social distancing and utilizing stay-at-home methods, we urge individuals to take this time to examine their mouth and identify if they have any issues that may be problematic. You should also check your children’s mouths for signs of decay and seek treatment if necessary. We hope that this April you decide to take prevention and detection of oral cancer seriously and make it a priority in your life.