A few minutes that could save your life
The fact that you don’t hear much about oral cancer could be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s not that uncommon – the National Cancer Institute predicts more than 40,000 people will be diagnosed with it in 2012, and that close to 8,000 will die from it. Knowing the facts about it may help you understand why those few extra minutes spent by your dentist doing an oral cancer exam is well worth it.
- Oral cancer can affect your mouth tissue, tongue, cheeks or throat. That’s why a good oral cancer exam involves checking all of those areas.
- Men and people over 40 are more likely to develop oral cancer.
- Oral cancer has a relatively poor survival rate, mostly because it’s not usually detected until it’s progressed to later stages. (Like all cancers, early detection is important. More than 80% survive if oral cancer is caught early.)
- Three known influences on oral cancer risk are tobacco use, alcohol use, and HPV-16 (human papillomavirus) – the same virus associated with cervical cancer risk.
Dentists are you best first line of defense against oral cancer, not only because of the screening exam, but if you should develop one of the symptoms. They are more familiar with the appearance of your mouth tissues than a regular physician might be, and have the equipment that will aid in a more thorough examination. If you have one of the indicators below, contact your dentist. These are some symptoms of oral cancer:
- A mouth sore that doesn’t heal up within 2 weeks
- A lump in your cheek
- A white, red, or red/white patch on your tongue or anywhere else in your mouth
- Numbness in the mouth or chin
- Loose teeth
- Chronic hoarseness
- Trouble with chewing or swallowing
- Difficulty moving your tongue or jaw
These signs don’t mean you have oral cancer, but they do warrant being checked out as a precautionary measure. If you’ve not had an oral cancer screening exam before, you may find it a bit strange the first time. But it’s a few minutes of time that can literally be lifesaving!