With all that’s going on in the world, the fact that April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month hasn’t received much publicity. However, it’s an important time to remind people that the statistics are always concerning, and not improving much over time.
Annually, over 30,000 people in the U. S. are diagnosed with oral cancer. On average, one person dies of oral cancer every hour. In recent years, there has been a rapid increase in oral cancers in comparison to other cancers. For instance, in a 5 year period, oral cancer increased 21 percent with cancer of the tongue increasing more than 37 percent. These are alarming figures when compared to the increase of new cancers of only 8 percent.
If you miss your dental cleaning and exam, you’re missing out on a very important part of the appointment. Your check-up includes an oral cancer screening. This part of your exam can literally be life-saving. With early detection, oral cancer is 90 percent survivable.
Although having a sore spot in the mouth can occasionally occur with most adults, it should clear up on its own within 1-2 weeks. Those that do not require immediate evaluation. DO NOT wait for your next dental check-up to have it assessed!
If a spot does occur, it may help to learn to recognize the signs of common sores and spots as you wait for it to heal.
A common spot can come from biting the inside of the cheek, foods that are highly acidic, or stress. Some viruses and other conditions can also contribute to problems. These fortunately resolve on their own, including:
Canker Sores – This causes small ulcers with a white or gray base and a red border. Unlike cold sores, canker sores appear inside the mouth. They are not contagious but their exact cause is uncertain. Some experts believe that immune system problems, bacteria or viruses may be involved. Fatigue, stress or allergies can increase the likelihood of a canker sore. A cut caused by biting the cheek or tongue, or reactions from hot foods or beverages may contribute to canker sore development. Intestinal problems, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, also seem to make some people more susceptible. Canker sores usually heal on their own after a week or so. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics, steroid preparations, and antimicrobial mouth rinses can provide temporary relief.
Cold Sores – Also called fever blisters or Herpes simplex, these are groups of fluid-filled blisters that often erupt around the lips, under the nose, or around the chin. Cold sores caused by herpes virus type 1 are very contagious. Herpes lesions look like multiple tiny fluid-filled blisters that are most common around the edge of the lips. An outbreak may follow a fever, sunburn, skin abrasions or emotional upset. Cold sore blisters usually heal in a week by themselves. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can provide some relief. Prescription antiviral drugs may reduce the duration of these kinds of viral infections.
Leukoplakia – This causes one or more white patches or spots (lesions) to form inside the mouth. Most who have the condition are males between the age 50 – 70. Although leukoplakia can be caused by a rough tooth or an irregular surface on a denture or a filling, it is often associated with heavy smoking or other tobacco and heavy alcohol. In some cases, however, the cause cannot be determined. Leukoplakia is especially concerning because it can eventually develop into oral cancer.
What will NOT resolve on its own and requires prompt evaluation are changes to oral tissue that do not resolve within 10-14 days. This can indicate oral cancer. Symptoms of oral cancer that are most common include:
• white or red patch of tissue
• lesion in the mouth
• difficulty or discomfort when swallowing
• persistent sore throat
• lump or mass inside the mouth or neck
• wart-like mass
• numbness in the oral/facial region
Why the urgency? The survival rate of oral cancer has one of the worst of all cancers, with only 57 percent estimated to be living 5 years from diagnosis. The death rate is higher than cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, thyroid cancer, or skin cancer.
Although the death rate has seen a slight decrease since 1980, some symptoms do not emerge until the cancer has reached advanced stages. This is because lesions or discolorations that are early warning signs are not always visible, particularly in the back portion of the mouth (the oropharynx, the tonsils, and base of tongue), which can be an obstacle to early diagnosis and treatment.
This reinforces the need to stay on schedule for regular oral hygiene exams and cleanings. During these visits, we look for unusual changes in the mouth that can indicate a problem. Please remember – NEVER wait until your scheduled appointment to have anything unusual examined. A stubborn canker or cold sore may be unslightly or uncomfortable, but these tend to go away in a week or so.
Please pass this information on to others you know so we can work together to lower these dire statistics. And, if you (or someone you know) are behind on your regular dental check-ups and cleanings, call 586-739-2155 to schedule or tap here to arrange a free consultation.