During routine dental examinations here in Timonium, Dr. Steven W. Haywood may look for signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer refers to cancers in the tongue, mouth, lips, jaw, and throat.
Cancer is as serious and scary as it ever was. Yet many people underestimate the seriousness of oral cancer. The American Cancer Society says that over 39,000 people will get oral cancer this year.
Consider this sobering news from the Oral Cancer Foundation:
“The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cancers which we hear about routinely such as cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, and endocrine system cancers such as thyroid, or skin cancer (malignant melanoma).”
When we perform an oral cancer screening during your dental examination, we will look for red or white spots, bleeding, lumps, difficulty swallowing, loose teeth, any color changes, and mouth sores. Is is essential to tell us if your bite has changed, if you have sores that won’t heal, and prolonged hoarseness. An earache in only one ear can also be an indicator.
The existence of any of these symptoms does not mean you have oral cancer, as they can be caused by any number of other conditions. However, if we discover something unusual, we may order additional tests or refer you to a medical doctor for further diagnosis and treatment if necessary.
It’s probably no surprise that the main risk factor for oral cancer is tobacco use. This includes all forms of tobacco, not just cigarettes. Those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol are also more likely to contract this deadly cancer. People with HPV, a sexually-transmitted virus, have a higher risk and prolonged sun exposure to lips makes lip cancer more likely.
All of these factors are lifestyle-related and, to a great extent, preventable. People who don’t use tobacco or drink heavily are statistically far less likely to get oral cancer and a host of other health problems.