What is oral cancer?
Oral cancer can be particularly dangerous because it can go undetected in its early states. This can make dentists the first line of defense in the fight against oral cancer. As the sixth most common cancer, it account for almost 5% of all cases. Over 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer each year and results in over 8,000 deaths. If oropharyngeal cancer is included, the number increases to over 15,000 per year.
What are the risk factors?
Risk factors include tobacco use, alcohol use, sun exposure of the lips, previous head and neck cancer diagnosis, and HPV. HPV can cause cancer in the back of the throat, on the base of the tongue, and the tonsils. It is estimated around 80 million Americans are infected wit HPV, but it is possible that vaccines could help prevent oropharyngeal cancer.
What are the warning signs?
Oral cancer is usually painless in the beginning stages but it can become painful as it progresses. You should see your dentist immediately if you find areas of your mouth that don’t heal after 2 weeks. There are many different presentations, so it is better to be cautious.
How do dentists screen for cancer?
Until proven otherwise, the most effective way to screen for oral cancer is a clinical evaluation. We look for irregular lumps or tissue changes on the neck, head, cheeks and oral cavity. We also use pictures and detailed notes to track any progression. While there are different rinses available, most oral pathologists do not believe they are predictable enough to use with any regularity.
How is oral cancer treated?
Treatment of oral cancer may include surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy. You physician will be the one to determine the appropriate course.
How can I prevent oral cancer?
Abstain from using all forms of tobacco, avoid excessive sun exposure, and excessive alcohol consumption. The CDC recommends that all preteen boys and girls be vaccinated for HPV. The success of treatment is closely tied to early detection, so you should maintain regular visits to your dentist.