Frequently Asked Questions About Oral Cancer
Approximately 50,000 Americans get oral cancer every year, and only about half of those people diagnosed will still be here half a decade following their diagnosis. A leading reason why oral cancer has become so pervasive and prevalent is insufficient knowledge and awareness about the disease. That’s why we aim to answer the most frequently asked questions about oral cancer below.
How do you define oral cancer?
Mouth cancer (aka oral cancer) refers to any type of cancer found in the mouth or the rear of the throat. Oral cancers can form in several places in the mouth, including:
- On the tongue
- Under the tongue
- On the tissues that line your mouth
- On gum tissue
- On the area of the mouth in the back of the throat
Why is the death rate from oral cancer so high?
More people die every year from oral cancers than from melanoma cancers or cervical cancer. Yet, oral cancers can be effectively treated if they are diagnosed early. If oral cancers are not caught early, however, they can become
life-threatening. That’s why the leading cause of the high oral cancer death rate is not a lack of effective treatment but a failure to detect the disease early enough.
What are the causes of oral cancer?
You may be at higher risk of developing oral cancer if you have one or more of the
following risk factors for the disease:
- Smoking – Whether it’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, if you smoke, you have a six times greater likelihood of developing mouth cancer.
- Smokeless tobacco use – If you use chewing tobacco products, including dip and snuff, you have a 50 times greater likelihood of developing certain types of oral cancer, specifically of the gums, cheeks, and lips.
- Excessive alcohol consumption – People who drink a lot of alcohol have about six times greater likelihood of developing oral cancers than nondrinkers. If you use tobacco and alcohol together, your chances are even higher.
- Excessive exposure to the sun – You can get lip cancers from spending too much time under the ultraviolet radiation of the sun, particularly at an early age.
- Diet – Oral cancer has been linked in studies to a failure to eat sufficient quantities of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Genetics/heredity – If your family has a history of cancer, that puts you at greater risk of cancer of any type, including oral cancer, than those without a genetic predisposition to the disease.
- Age – It can take many years for oral cancers to grow, with most people who have it only discovering it after they’re 55 years old.
- Gender – Men have at least twice the likelihood women have of getting mouth cancer.
- HPV - Certain strains of the human papillomavirus are risk factors for a certain type of oral cancer (Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma, or OSCC.)
Be aware that more than a quarter of all mouth cancers happen in non-smokers who only consume alcohol now and then.
How can I prevent oral cancer?
Preventing oral cancers is a combined matter of regularly seeing your dentist for routine checkups, living more healthily, and of course, detecting oral cancer or any of its signs or symptoms early.
Avoid smoking or using any smokeless tobacco products, including snuff, chewing tobacco, and dip. Limit how much alcohol you consume. Avoid staying out under direct sunlight for too long, and, when you must be out in the sun, wear
sun-protective clothing (including hats and sunglasses) and UV sunblock. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and other foods high in vitamins, essential fatty acids, and minerals.
Examine your mouth closely at least every month for any signs of lumps, growths, irritation, or abnormal tissue in your mouth or around your lips, neck, cheeks, face, and head. If you find any changes or abnormalities or notice any of the signs or symptoms of oral cancers listed in the next section below, contact your dentist in New York, NY right away. And, whether you find anything to report or not, make sure you see your dentist for regular checkups once or twice per year. This way, your dentist can perform an oral cancer screening and help you catch any causes for concern early, while they’re still relatively easy to treat.
What are the signs and symptoms of oral cancer?
While it may be tough to notice oral cancers without a dentist’s assistance, you can still look out for certain signs and symptoms that a problem may exist. These symptoms include:
- Ulcers and sores that won’t heal within several weeks
- Patches in the mouth of red or white
- Inflammation or lumps in the head, neck, or mouth area
- Patches and growths of scar-type tissue
What do I do if I notice any changes in my mouth?
One of your vital healthcare team members is your dentist. If there are any concerns you have about your dental health, ask your dentist to check it out immediately. Your dentist will help you determine whether your concerns are justified and, if so, what to do about it.
How do dentists diagnose oral cancer?
As part of any routine exam, your New York, NY dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening. During this screening, the dentist will feel around your neck, face, head, and inside of your mouth for any lumps, growths, or abnormal tissue changes. While examining the inside of your mouth, the dentist will check for any tissue discoloration or sores as well as any of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer previously listed.
If the dentist notices anything that looks suspicious, he or she may take a biopsy to get a closer look.
Call us today at PDA Dental to schedule your next dental checkup and oral cancer screening with a dentist in New York, NY.