Did you know approximately 42,000 people in America will be diagnosed with an oral or pharyngeal cancer in 2013? And that over the past five years that oral cancer has been on the rise? The Oral Cancer Foundation notes that “mouth cancer will be newly diagnosed in about 100 new individuals each day in the US alone, and a person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day.” Sadly, the death rate for oral cancers is higher than that of most other types of cancers; only about 57% of oral cancer patients will be alive in five years. Early detection and treatment are critical.
Oral cancer can form in any part of the mouth or throat. Most oral cancers begin in the tongue and in the floor of the mouth. Anyone can get oral cancer, but the risk is higher if you are male, over age 40, use tobacco or alcohol or have a history of head or neck cancer. Frequent sun exposure is also a risk for lip cancer.
The causes of oral cancers vary. Among the most common causes are:
· Tobacco: All types of tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, or pipes and the use of chewing tobacco and dipping snuff have all been linked all linked to oral cancer.
· Alcohol: People who consume 3.5 or more drinks per day have at least a two to three time’s greater risk of developing oral cancers than non-drinkers.
The risk is even higher for tobacco users who drink alcohol heavily. In fact, 75 percent of oral cancers occur in people who use alcohol, tobacco, or both alcohol and tobacco.
Other causes of oral cancers include:
· Sun: Like skin cancer, prolonged exposure to the sun’s damaging rays increase the odds of cancer of the lip. Using sunscreen and lip balm that has a sunscreen can reduce the risk. Wearing a hat with a brim can also block the sun's harmful rays. The risk of cancer of the lip increases if the person also smokes.
· Diet: A diet low in fruits and vegetables may play a role in oral cancer development. A healthy diets contributes to oral health as well as over all well-being.
· Sexual transmitted disease: HPV16, a type of human papillomavirus can cause oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the back of throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). Actor Michael Douglas was diagnosed with oral cancer caused by HPV16. A very small number of other kinds of oral cancers also occur from different strains of HPV.
· Other head and neck cancers: People who have survived a first encounter with the disease have up to a 20 times higher risk of developing a second oral cancer.
Regular dental exams not only check for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, they also allow your dentist to inspect your mouth and tongue for unusual changes. These twice yearly exams are especially important if you fall into any of the risk categories for oral cancer. You’ll want to see your dentist if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:
- A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in the mouth, lip, or throat
- A white or red patch in the mouth
- A feeling that something is caught in the throat
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
- Numbness in the tongue or other areas of the mouth
- Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
- Pain in one ear without hearing loss
The dentist may use a diagnostic tool called a VELscope to help detect cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions and other growths that might not be apparent to the naked eye. The VELscope is also used to help dentist and oral surgeons determine appropriate surgical margins to cleanly remove all diseased areas.
The VELscope emits a blue light which excites natural fluorophores or chemical compounds in mucosal tissues of the mouth, gums and tongue. The VELscope’s special filters enhancing the contrast between normal and abnormal mucosal tissue, allowing the dentist to pinpoint any problem areas. The VELscope is not used in the treatment of oral cancer.
Please contact Southfield Family Dental Center at (248) 569-630 to schedule your next dental exam – don’t forget to ask about the $35 exam and x-rays. Be sure to share your complete medical history, including your past and present alcohol and tobacco usage at your next office visit. After all, our patient’s overall health and well-being are as important to us as their winning smiles.