April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month
posted: Apr. 04, 2019.
In all of my years of practicing dentistry one of the things that has had a lasting effect on me has been when a patient presents with oral cancer. This connection is a result of having a few people close to me who were diagnosed and resulted in tragic outcomes. On the other hand, I have also known quite a few who were diagnosed early and had a positive prognosis. Early detection is critical which is why our practice is committed to screening for oral cancers using the latest innovative techniques.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, nearly 53,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year. It will cause 9,750 deaths, killing roughly one person per hour 24 hours per day. Historically the death rate for oral cancers is high due to the cancer being discovered and diagnosed late in development. Often it is only discovered after it has already metastasized to another location, like the lymph nodes in the neck. Prognosis at that stage of discovery is much worse than if it is caught early in a localized intraoral area. In the early stages, the patient may not even notice, so the oral cancer can grow without causing pain or obvious symptoms.
There are some specific risk factors such as smoking and tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, UV radiation (lip cancer), and a connection to certain strains of human papillomavirus. Even without clear risk factors, a person could still develop an oral cancer and because symptoms can go unnoticed in the absence of pain or obvious physical changes, an screening can be the most important step to early detection. A dentist can see and feel tissue changes while they are still very small and in the earliest stage. There may be a red or white patch of tissue that looks just like a typical canker sore, however any sore area of your mouth which doesn’t heal within 14 days should be looked at. Other symptoms may be a painless lump in the mouth, pain or difficulty swallowing, speaking or chewing, hoarseness that persists or numbness in the mouth.
If something suspicious is detected you may be referred to a specialist for a biopsy. In our office we now use the Velscope to perform enhanced oral cancer screenings along with an exam. There is an 82% survival rate when oral cancers are caught early. The screening is simple, painless and takes just two minutes. It can reveal tissue abnormalities before they become visible to the naked eye. I am pleased to be able to offer this technology to our patients.