Oral Cancer

Oral Cancer Screenings
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer, accounting for 40,000 newly diagnosed cancers each year and 9,000 deaths. Less than half of all oral cancer patients are cured, because the disease usually is diagnosed in later stages. You are more likely to develop oral cancer if you are male (2 times) and over age 45.

While the potential for oral cancer may be genetically inherited, the risk increases for smokers, spit tobacco users, too much exposure to sunlight and excessive alcohol consumption. Habits such as lip or cheek biting and ill-fitting dentures also heighten the risk of developing oral cancer.

The most prevalent oral cancer sites are the tongue, floor of the mouth and soft palate. But oral cancer may also be found on the lips, cheeks or gums.

Many dental offices perform a free oral cancer examination at routine check-ups by looking for certain indicators and palpating (feeling) for lumps or irregular tissue changes in your mouth, head and neck. They will biopsy any suspected areas. Treatment for oral cancer is surgical removal of the lesion; sometimes radiation therapy is utilized.

If you can't go for regular six-month check-ups, you can perform self-examination to look for early warning signs. Basically, you are looking for anything out of the ordinary, especially a lump that increases in size, a sore that doesn't heal within two weeks and changes in the appearance of soft tissue. Other early warning signs are persistent bleeding from the throat or mouth, difficulty swallowing, constant hoarseness and numbness anywhere in the mouth. To perform your own oral cancer examination, start in one area and consistently follow a pattern of observation and palpation.

1. Face and neck - using a mirror and your nose as the dividing line, look for lumps or swellings that appear on only one side. See if there are any size or color changes in moles or other growths. With your fingers, press the sides and front of your neck, feeling for lumps or tenderness.

2. Lips - Pull your lip down or up to observe any sores or color changes. Run your lip between your thumb and forefinger, feeling for lumps or changes in texture.

3. Cheeks, roof of the mouth, floor of the mouth, tongue, and gums - Look for red, white or dark patches or open sores. Feel for lumps and bumps.

Oral cancer is painless in the early stages. With early discovery and treatment, survival rates greatly increase. If you detect these early warning signs, call or see your dentist immediately.