April is Oral Cancer Awareness month. Oral cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, in large part because it does not get detected early enough. That is why spreading awareness is critical to saving lives. There are about 9000 deaths from oral cancer a year, about one death every hour of every day.
A Changing Risk Pattern
In the past, we used to think we knew who was most at risk for oral cancer. The risks were related to older men who:
- Were over age 50
- Used alcohol to excess
Now, though, we are finding more and more cases in people who did not fit the previous risk pattern. Often, these are younger people who have been exposed to a variety of the human papillomavirus (HPV).
If you know or suspect that you have been exposed to HPV, it is critical that you get regular cancer screenings.
Oral cancer still occurs about twice as often in men as in women. In addition, it is linked to trauma in the mouth, infections, and poor oral hygiene. Some gum disease bacteria have been known to increase the risk of various cancers. Finally, poor nutrition may increase your cancer risk.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Ideally, screening should detect your cancer before you have symptoms. However, there are some symptoms of oral cancer that you should look out for. It may be cancer if you experience:
- Irritations or sores in the mouth that do not heal
- Red or white patches in the mouth
- Pain, tenderness, or numbness in the mouth or lips
- Lumps, rough spots, eroded areas, or crusty patches
- A change in the way your teeth fit together
- A painless lump or swelling in the neck
- Difficulty or pain when chewing, swallowing, speaking, or other mouth functions
These symptoms do not necessarily indicate cancer, but they should be checked out as they are signs of a problem. Changes in the way your teeth fit together, for example, could be related to TMJ.
Screening Is Easy and Quick
The good news is that oral cancer screening is easy and quick. We can do it during your regular checkup, and it takes less than a couple minutes.