Are YOU At Risk For Oral Cancer?

Posted on Apr 08, 2015 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

None of us anticipate contracting cancer in our lifetime. We may have a family history of certain cancers or know we’re risking cancer from certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking. Yet, the actual diagnosis of cancer is typically an unexpected jolt.

Oral cancer fails to be as visible as some other cancers, such as breast or colon cancer. It doesn’t have the backing of major media campaigns nor is it backed by nationally-coordinated fundraisers, such as walks sponsored by major firms. Yet, oral cancer is one of the deadliest of all cancers with one of the poorest survival rates. For those who do survive, the disfiguring effects from treatment can be jarring. Roger Ebert, one of the most recognized movie critics of modern film, succumbed to oral cancer after undergoing surgical attempts to save him, leaving him unrecognizable in his final days.

The American Cancer Society cites oral cancer is more than twice as common in men as in women. It is about equally common in blacks and in whites. Although the overall rate of new cases has been stable in men and decreasing slightly in women, there has been an increase in cases linked to infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) in white males and females.

Oral cancer occurs most often in:
• The tongue
• The tonsils & oropharynx
• The gums, base of the mouth and in other oral soft tissues
• The lips and salivary glands

The average age of people diagnosed with these cancers is 62 with more than a fourth of oral cancers occurring in patients under age 55.

With newly diagnosed oral cancer patients, a small percentage will develop another cancer in a nearby area such as the larynx (voice box), the esophagus (the tube in the throat) or the lung. Some who are cured of oral cancer will develop another cancer later in the lung, mouth, throat, or other nearby areas. For this reason, patients must have follow-up exams for the rest of their lives. Oral cancer survivors must also avoid tobacco and alcohol, which increase the risk for these second cancers.

The word “cancer” on its own is scary. For those who must endure the battle as well as family members who are closely involved, an oral cancer diagnosis is devastating. But, it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Knowing your risks can help, but watching for signs and taking immediate action can mean the difference between minimal treatment versus a disfiguring, or even deadly, outcome.

Warning signs include a mouth sore that does not heal, white or red patch of tissue, difficulty swallowing, a lump or mass in the mouth or neck, a long period of hoarseness, pain or numbness in the oral region, change in the voice, or a long period of ear pain.

As a Periodontal Specialist, I have in-depth training that helps me spot early signs of oral cancer and to begin prompt treatment. My goal is to help restore you to good oral health in all procedures. Catching oral cancer as early as possible will help you resume your life with a smile.

If you have signs of oral cancer, as listed above, contact us immediately for an examination: (828) 274-9440.

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