It may not be one of the most commonly heard of cancers, but oral cancer is still diagnosed in approximately 48,250 American’s each year. It is also responsible for more than 9,500 deaths per year. The death rate is higher than with other head and neck cancers, not because it is particularly hard to discover or diagnose, but because this type of cancer has historically been discovered quite late in its development and after it has metasized to another location in the body, such as the lymph nodes.
Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because it is virtually imperceptible in its early stages. This is because symptoms are minimal and hard to recognize. There is also an increased risk of producing second, primary tumors. This means that patients who survive a first encounter with the disease, have up to 20 times higher risk of developing second cancer. This heightened risk factor can last for 5 to 10 years after the first occurrence of cancer is detected.
Thankfully, oral cancer is now being detected much earlier thanks to screening carried out by dental professionals, and the earlier oral cancer is detected, the greater the chance of successful treatment.
Oral cancer can develop anywhere in the oral cavity. This includes your:
front part of your tongue
the floor of your mouth between your tongue and the hard palate that makes up the roof of your mouth
Your dentist may also check out your throat (pharynx), which includes the back part of your tongue, and the base where your tongue attaches to the floor of your mouth.
The symptoms of oral cancer aren’t always obvious, and that is why it is important to go for regular check-ups with your dentist, as he will be best placed to check for anything that seems unusual within your mouth cavity.
However, symptoms that you may notice include:
red or white patches inside your mouth
a sore or irritated patch of skin that doesn’t go away
pain, numbing or tenderness in the mouth or lips
problems or difficulty with chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your jaw or tongue
a change in the alignment of your teeth when you close your jaw
Research has identified a number of behaviors that create an additional risk factor for the development of oral cancer. These include:
excessive alcohol consumption
smokeless tobacco (vaping)
carrying the human papillomavirus (more commonly known as HPV)
The most important thing that you can do to prevent against oral cancer, as well as improve your overall health and wellbeing is to stop smoking, don’t take drugs and stick to sensible alcohol consumption.
It is also recommended that you stick to a robust oral hygiene routine, and visit your dentist regularly so that he can perform a thorough examination.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, or if you have any other concerns about oral cancer, please speak to your dentist who will be happy to support and advise you.