Difficult Battle With Oral Cancer

Posted on Sep 25, 2015 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

This past year, former Padres’ ball player and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died from oral cancer. Mr. Gwynne felt this was a result of years of using smokeless tobacco, a habit that is fairly common among Major League baseball players.

Gwynn’s oral cancer was diagnosed in 2010, which began in his salivary glands. Even after a rigorous fight with chemotherapy and radiation, it’s progression was beyond treatment. Oral cancer has some of the worse statistics of all cancers. It takes the life of an American every hour and has one of the worst survival rates.

Apparently, smokeless tobacco had become such a problem that a survey was conducted to determine just how rampant its use had become. The survey found that about one third of Major League rookies were regular users of chewing and snuff. Also revealed was that, when including all players, approximately 30% overall used smokeless tobacco. This was a disturbing find since it showed that once a user the habit had very few giving it up.

Because the MLB felt this growing trend was sending a message to young fans, they have since set rules regarding the use of these products. There is still much work to do, obviously, since a 2012 study showed that nearly 11% of high school males were smokeless tobacco users.

Users typically tuck chewing tobacco or snuff between their cheek and gums and spit out the juices. Snuff is occasionally snorted directly into the nostrils. And, while the hazards of cigarette smoke are better known, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention warns that smokeless products contain 28 carcinogens and are a known cause of oral cancer.

Too, it is common knowledge that cigarettes are addictive. However, just like cigarettes, nicotine occurs naturally in all tobacco products – smokeless, too. It is also physically and emotionally addictive. Many don’t realize just how addictive these products have become until they try to quit. Common symptoms, similar to those experienced with giving up cigarettes, include weeks of depression, irritability, headaches, weight gain and dizziness.

In addition to giving up the use of all tobacco products, current and former users, especially, should be aware of warning signs. These include a spot or sore in the mouth, tongue or lips that does not heal within 10-14 days. Other signs may be a persistent sore throat, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness or change in the voice. These symptoms should be checked by your dentist or periodontal specialist immediately. When treated early, oral cancer can be survivable.

Also, please share this information with team coaches when you notice signs of smokeless tobacco use. You may be helping to save a growing smile from disfiguration or even death. For more information, call us at 828-274-9440, or schedule a prompt appointment if you’ve noticed any of the above mentioned symptoms.

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