What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is one of the most common cancers. The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that close to 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. It will cause over 8,000 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours per day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the five-year survival rate for oral cancers is roughly 50 percent.
The vast majority of oral cancers occur in people older than 50 years, with men being twice as likely as women to develop the disease. The most frequent oral cancer sites are the tongue, the floor of the mouth and soft palate tissues in back of the tongue, lips and gums. Oral cancer can be represented by red, white, or discolored lesions, patches or lumps in or around the mouth, and it is typically painless in its early stages. As the malignant cancer spreads and destroys healthy oral tissue, the lesions or lumps become more painful.
Oral cancer is sometimes difficult to self-diagnose, so routine dental exams are recommended. Warning signs may include bleeding sores; sores that do not heal; lumps; thick, hard spots; soreness or feeling that something is caught in the throat; difficulty chewing or swallowing; ear pain; difficulty moving the jaw or tongue; hoarseness; and numbness of the tongue, as well as changes in the way teeth fit together.
Keep in mind – The earlier the cancer is detected and treated, the better the outcome. Early detection is KEY. The death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high, not because it is hard to detect or diagnose, but because the cancer is often discovered late in its development.
Self-Examination – What to Look For
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons, like Dr. McGann, recommend that everyone perform an oral cancer self-exam each month. An oral examination is performed using a bright light and a mirror:
- remove any dentures
- look and feel inside the lips and the front of gums
- tilt head back to inspect and feel the roof of your mouth
- pull the cheek out to see its inside surface as well as the back of the gums
- pull out your tongue and look at all of its surfaces
- feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in both sides of the neck including under the lower jaw
When performing an oral cancer self-examination, look for the following:
- white patches of the oral tissues — leukoplakia
- red patches — erythroplakia
- red and white patches — erythroleukoplakia
- a sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
- an abnormal lump or thickening of the tissues of the mouth
- chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- difficulty in chewing or swallowing
- a mass or lump in the neck
See your oral and maxillofacial surgeon if you have any of these signs.
What Causes Oral Cancer?
Scientists are not sure of the exact cause of oral cancer. However, research has identified a number of factors that may contribute to the development of oral cancer. In the past, those at an especially high risk of developing oral cancer were over 40 years of age, heavy drinkers and smokers. Shockingly, the fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients is young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals under the age of 40.
Other factors that may promote oral cancer include physical trauma, infectious disease, poor oral hygiene and poor nutrition; however, the research regarding their involvement is uncertain. It is likely that there is a complex interaction of many external and internal factors that play a role in the development of oral cancer.
Keep in mind that your mouth is one of your body’s most important early warning systems. Don’t ignore any suspicious lumps or sores. Should you discover something, make an appointment for a prompt examination. Early treatment may well be the key to complete recovery.
If you have a concern regarding your oral health or would like to be screened, contact McGann Facial Design today. We recommend performing an oral cancer self-examination monthly. Remember that your mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems. Do not ignore suspicious lumps or sores. Please contact us so we may help.
For additional information on diagnosis, treatment, and additional resources, visit The Oral Cancer Foundation website: http://oralcancerfoundation.org
The information provided here is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is provided to help you communicate effectively with your oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Always seek the advice of your oral and maxillofacial surgeon regarding an oral health concern.