Something is wrong. You feel like something is stuck in your throat. It’s irritating, and it makes it difficult to swallow.
That is not something you should ignore. It may be a symptom of oral cancer.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and we want to take a moment to share some information you should know about this disease.
It is treatable, and early detection makes that treatment more effective. It’s also a reason for you to visit Relax Dental for a dental cleaning. During your visit, we can conduct an oral cancer screening. If we see anything out of the ordinary, we will let you know, so you can follow up with your physician.
What to Look For
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 54,000 people will be diagnosed with some form of oral cancer this year in the United States.
When found early, the five-year survival rate for this kind of cancer is 80-90 percent. When found in the late stages, that survival rate drops to 57 percent.
In addition to keeping up with regular dental checkups (where we will screen for potential signs of oral cancer), you also can conduct self-checks at home. A mirror and a flashlight can help in this process. The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons has created a six-step guide to help:
- Remove dentures (if you have them)
- Look at and feel your gums and the inside of your lips
- Tilt your head to inspect and feel the roof of your mouth
- Move your cheeks to examine them and to see your gums in the back of your mouth
- Pull out your tongue and examine the top and bottom
- Feel for lumps along your lower jaw and your neck
Some potential signs of oral cancer include chronic hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, mouth sores that aren’t healing, thickening of soft tissues, and patches of tissue that appear red, white, or a combination of both.
Contact your doctor right away if you find anything concerning.
Know Your Risk Factors
Some things you cannot control, like your age or your family history. You should certainly be aware of those things. At the same time, you know which of your behaviors may be increasing your odds of developing oral cancer.
- Tobacco Use – This is the biggest risk factor for many kinds of cancer. There may be some variance in the kind of tobacco, but the bottom line is any tobacco use makes you more likely to develop oral cancer.
- Alcohol Use – Research has shown that individuals who consume 21 or more drinks per week show a significantly higher risk of developing oral cancer.
- Using tobacco and alcohol together – Alcohol can dry out the soft tissues of your mouth. This makes it easier for the carcinogens in tobacco products to be absorbed into those tissues.
- HPV – The human papillomavirus has been linked to an increased risk of oral and other cancers. Talk to your doctor about preventive steps you can take for yourself and your family to fight HPV.
Care for Yourself & Your Mouth
Going to the dentist isn’t just about fighting cavities and having white teeth. It could help you identify potentially life-threatening problems.