Oral cancer includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor or the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat). It’s usually discovered during a dental check-up in which you dentist performs an oral cancer screening. It can present as a sore that doesn’t heal and becomes especially painful.
Preventing Oral Cancer
When oral cancer is caught early during a routine check-up it can be treated early. The American Dental Association suggests annual dental check-ups, and oral exams are important for oral health. They are also key factors in diagnosing oral cancer early so that treatment is more successful. Preventative measures like annual check-ups, dental care, at home oral hygiene, and a nutritious diet all contribute to a healthy mouth.
Signs of Oral Cancer
Your dentist should see you annually, but you should pay attention to your teeth, gums, mouth, and throat every single day. Signs that could point to oral cancer include:
- Swollen areas, lumps, or bumps
- Rough spots or scab-like surfaces
- Velvety-white, red, or speckled patches in the mouth
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Unexplained numbness or pain in any area of the face, mouth, or neck
- Persistent sores that aren’t healed after two weeks
- The feeling that something is stuck in your throat
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
- Hoarseness or chronic sore throat
- Ear pain
- Dramatic weight loss
If the only thing you notice is that your teeth feel different in your mouth, or that your dentures fit differently, it’s still worth a visit to the dentist. Any sign is enough to schedule an appointment. A good rule of thumb is to remember: pain and bleeding is not normal.
Depending on the severity of your case, your treatment can be quite aggressive. It’s treated like other cancers, with removal of the malignant growth followed by radiation or chemotherapy. Following your cancer treatment you and your regular dentist will be even more proactive about oral cancer screenings and oral health.
The best way to prevent oral cancer is to avoid using tobacco products. Individuals are at an increased risk of oral cancers if they use tobacco products or drink alcoholic beverages regularly. The risk is slightly higher if tobacco and alcohol are used together. Cancer caused by tobacco, alcohol, or poor oral hygiene are 100 percent preventable. Other factors that put you at higher risk are not preventable, but should prompt you to make more frequent visits to your dentist. If you have a family history of head and neck cancer, if you have human papillomavirus (HPV), or have a compromised immune system you should be checked regularly for oral cancer. In between appointments you can check your mouth, tongue, teeth, throat, and neck for signs of change that is alarming. Your dentist can offer some valuable information and refer you to a specialist to receive treatment. Prevention and early detection is vital for successful treatment and rehabilitation following a cancer diagnosis.