Oral Cancer Is Real: Get Screened Regularly and Catch it Early
Frequently Asked Questions About Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is particularly dangerous due to a lack of general awareness of risk factors, symptoms, and the importance of oral cancer screening. Statistics show a 67% survival rate over five years, which increases to 85% when it’s diagnosed and treated at an early stage.
Monroe Family Dentistry aims to educate patients about oral cancer, so they have the tools and knowledge to feel confident and informed. To help you better understand oral cancer and what you can do to protect your oral health, we’ve answered 4 popular questions we hear from patients.
1. Why does oral cancer develop, and am I at risk?
Oral cancer, like all forms of cancer, is a genetic disease. Cancer attacks our genes, damages DNA, and causes our body’s cells to malfunction. Despite how common cancer is, determining what causes it can be complicated.
Scientists and doctors agree that cancer typically develops when multiple factors combine, such as environmental elements, lifestyle habits, inherited genetic vulnerabilities, and pre-existing health conditions. Oral cancer seems to be significantly influenced by lifestyle habits, which helps us determine who is at risk in a much more straightforward way compared to other forms of cancer.
Risk factors for developing oral cancer include:
- Tobacco use (all forms).
- Excessive alcohol consumption.
- Excessive sun exposure to lips.
- Suppressed immune system.
- Exposure to HPV.
Tobacco use is the most common risk factor for oral cancer. An astounding 90% of people with oral cancer are chronic tobacco users.
2. What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
Oral cancer symptoms appear quite subtle initially, and some can even be confused with symptoms of the common cold at first. If you’re at risk of developing oral cancer, it’s crucial to be aware of its symptoms in case you exhibit these early warning signs between dental appointments.
You should contact your dentist right away if you’re experiencing:
- Oral sores in the mouth that aren’t healing or going away.
- White or red patches on your gums or the soft tissues in your mouth and throat.
- Swelling or thickening of oral tissues, particularly the insides of the cheeks.
- Pain or tenderness in the mouth coupled with the above symptoms.
Oral cancer can also cause these symptoms:
- Chronic sore throat that makes swallowing feel difficult or obstructed.
- Lack of normal sensation in the mouth (i.e., you can’t feel temperature differences, or feel numb).
- Teeth feeling loose or wiggly, or dentures fitting too tightly due to swelling.
- Swelling or lumps around the jaw, face, and neck.
- Unusual accompanying symptoms, like chronic bad breath, weight loss, and a raspy voice.
Remember that there is no such thing as an insignificant symptom, and it’s always better to have your dentist evaluate new developments in your oral health than to wait it out.
3. How is oral cancer treated?
Oral cancer treatment varies based on severity and how much it has spread within the oral cavity or throughout the body.
When caught in its earliest stage, treatment may only require surgical removal of the affected tissue, followed by necessary lifestyle changes to prevent cancer relapse. If the cancer is more developed or has begun to spread, surgery followed by radiation therapy may be required. Sometimes chemotherapy will also be used in tandem with radiation.
In its most severe stage, oral cancer may not be operable due to how much it’s spread within the body. At this stage, chemoradiation, chemotherapy alone, immunotherapy, and several other therapeutics may be used to control symptoms.
4. Can I prevent oral cancer from developing?
Stopping tobacco use is the most effective thing you can do to prevent oral cancer. Smoking and chewing tobacco increase your risks 6 and 50 times, respectively. Eliminating this risk factor from your lifestyle can be enough to prevent oral cancer entirely.
Excessive alcohol use is another lifestyle habit that significantly increases your risk of oral cancer. Strongly consider quitting, and don’t hesitate to reach out for help in your journey.
The third thing to do is receive oral cancer screenings regularly. If you’re in the low-risk category, an annual screening is fine. If you’re high risk or you’ve had oral cancer before, oral cancer screening should be biannual. Dr. Monroe includes oral cancer screenings during routine dental checkups to ensure the earliest signs of oral sores or lesions are always caught as quickly as possible.
Last but not least, see a dentist every six months for dental checkups and cleanings. Practice excellent oral hygiene at home, eat a wholesome diet, and don’t forget to wear lip balm with SPF when you’re in the sun!
Learn more about oral cancer during your next dental care visit.
Monroe Family Dentistry provides comprehensive, compassionate dental care in Greenville, SC. Dr. Monroe would love to speak with you about your oral health, discuss any concerns about oral cancer, and walk you through what he looks for during oral cancer screenings.
Schedule your visit today by calling our office or requesting a visit online.