Early Detection is Your Best Protection
Cancer is never a welcome disease. But of all cancers, oral cancer has one of the highest mortality rates. Why? Because it’s both painless and sneaky in the early stages, often going undetected until it’s advanced beyond what can be effectively battled by cancer treatments.
Be smart, don’t start. There are five common risk factors that correlate strongly with oral cancer. If you use any kind of tobacco product-chewing it, dipping snuff, smoking cigarettes, smoking cigars, or smoking a pipe, your chances of developing cancer are significantly higher than people who do not expose their mouth to tobacco. In fact, 80-90% of oral cancers are found in people who take part in these activities. You’re also at a higher risk for oral cancer if you consume frequent or large quantities of alcohol. And what’s worse, when alcohol and tobacco are used together, the risk is not only doubled, but compounded. In either case, you can improve your chances of long term health by simply never using these products, or quitting now if you do use them.
Chronic irritation, bad situation. You may also be at risk for oral cancer if your lips are constantly exposed to sunlight, if you have a chronic habit of lip or cheek biting, or if you wear poorly fitting dentures. These factors seem to cause problems because of their tendency to produce various types of oral sores, often appearing as small, whitish patches inside the mouth or on the lips. While scientists don’t fully understand why these patches or leukoplakia form, they believe that these areas of chronic irritation may begin to experience excessive cell growth, leading to cancer.
White patches, red flags. If you’re careful to check for warning signs, it may be possible to catch and treat oral cancer before it becomes life threatening. And while you can stay alert to these ‘red flags’ on your own, it’s best to have your dental health professional do a thorough oral cancer screen for you, on a regular basis. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why we are so meticulous about checking every aspect of your lips, mouth, gums, tongue and other oral tissues during your regular check-ups. He’ll look for whitish patches, persistent mouth sores, tissue color changes, spots of pain, tenderness, or numbness, or any changes in your bite over time. He’ll also ask you about your lifestyle habits, and whether you’ve noticed any difficulties in chewing, swallowing, speaking, moving your jaw, or moving your tongue. If there’s any area of concern, he may even order a biopsy to rule out a problem.
Be careful, not fearful. All in all, your best weapon against oral cancer is to avoid the known risk factors. Studies show that tobacco and alcohol users who quit can greatly improve their health status, and lower their chances of related problems. Sunscreen use can eliminate your risk for lip cancer; careful attention to personal lip or cheek biting habits can reduce any concern in those individuals; and those with ill-fitting dentures should have their appliances re-sized as quickly as possible. In any case, it’s wise to notify our office if you have concerns related to any of these factors.