Ask most Americans which cancers are the most deadly and you’ll likely hear replies of pancreatic, prostrate or breast cancer. While these cancers are widespread and can be deadly, you rarely hear about oral cancer.
What makes Oral Cancer so deadly is its ability to progress long before symptoms emerge. By the time they do, it becomes a difficult cancer to battle. Treatment is often very disfiguring. Even worse, it is known to be one of the deadliest of all cancers, taking the life of one American every hour of every day.
In the majority of dental offices, regular dental exams include an annual screening for Oral Cancer. However, a 2014 Gallup poll showed that one-third of American adults have not seen a dentist in over a year (http://www.gallup.com/poll/168716/one-third-americans-haven-visited-dentist-past-year.aspx), leaving a significant percentage of adults unchecked. If a key component in catching Oral Cancer before it becomes deadly involves a dental visit, the challenge will continue until more individuals are in a dental chair.
For many individuals, dental fear can be a deterrent to having regular dental care. This is why we offer oral and I.V. sedation. These relaxation options, in addition to providing a gentle touch, have opened the doors for many fearful adults to have regular dental care. Still, there are an estimated 70 percent who have fears or anxiety when it comes to dental visits. Some are so fearful that they avoid dental visits altogether.
Those with the highest risk are adult males, with Black males being the most susceptible. Oral cancer risk also increases with age, especially after age 50. Risk levels generally peak between ages 60 – 70. The highest rates have been noted with males between ages 50 – 59.
Other risk factors (for all ages) includes tobacco and alcohol use. However, a particular factor that is spiking numbers in younger age groups is the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).
A National Cancer Institute Survey shows a 15% increase in oral cancer rates over the past three decades. Still, many people assume “if it doesn’t hurt, then nothing’s wrong.” I believe this has lead to such high levels of periodontal (gum) disease and subsequent adult tooth loss. And, as rising Oral Cancer statistics show, the casual attitude toward dental exams can result in far worse than losing teeth.
April is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Begin by becoming familiar with the symptoms. Acting on these early warning signs means we can take prompt, appropriate action. These include:
• A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in the mouth, lip, or throat
• White or red patch inside the mouth
• Feeling something is stuck in the throat
• Difficulty chewing or swallowing
• Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
• Numbness in the tongue or other areas of the mouth
• Unexplained swelling of the jaw
• Pain in an ear without hearing loss
While these symptoms do not always indicate Oral Cancer, anything in the mouth that does not go away on its own in 10-14 days should be examined immediately. Early treatment can mean the difference between resolving the problem simply or disfiguring surgeries, and even death.
Call 586-739-2155 for an examination appointment if you have not had regular dental check-ups. In the meantime, learn more about Oral Cancer at the American Cancer Society’s web site: