April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, a whole month dedicated to educating the public about oral cancer. Oral cancer is known as the silent killer because it often goes undiagnosed and undetected until it has spread to other areas of the body or reached the late stages of the disease. As a result, the long term prognosis for those with cancers isn’t very positive. At Maegan Elam, DDS & Associates, we support Oral Cancer Awareness Month by bringing you the facts about your risk factors and how you can perform an oral cancer self-check to catch cancer early.
Anyone can get oral cancer, with roughly 43,000 Americans diagnosed each year. However, there are certain factors that are directly linked to increasing your risk for oral cancer. Tobacco use in any form is the leading cause of oral cancers, as well as additional cancers throughout the body. In addition, heavy alcohol use is also linked to causing oral cancer with roughly 7 out of 10 people with the cancers reported to be heavy drinkers. When you combine tobacco use with heavy alcohol consumption, you are 100 times more likely to develop oral cancer than those who don’t drink or smoke.
The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is also linked to causing oral cancer when the virus has infected the mouth and throat. While the virus often produces no symptoms, two out of three with oral cancer are found to have the virus present.
There are many additional factors that place a person at risk for oral cancer, such as those over 55 years of age and males. In addition, poor nutrition, exposure to ultraviolet light, a weakened immune system, and graft-versus-host disease are also linked to the cancers. It’s also believed that genetic syndromes, using mouthwashes with high alcohol content, and even irritation from dentures can lead to oral cancer.
While it’s important to visit your Bedford dentist regularly for oral cancer screenings, you can perform an oral cancer self-check at home in-between visits. You’ll need to feel the jaw, behind the ears, and down the neck for signs of abnormalities. Be sure to check the clavicles and the throat as well. You’ll also need to perform a visual analysis of the tongue, lips, cheeks, and roof of the mouth to look for possible lesions or abnormalities. Don’t forget to check the floor of the mouth and the back of the throat as well. If you notice any abnormalities, schedule an appointment for an oral cancer screening right away.
Even with home checks, you’ll still need to have regular oral cancer screenings performed by your Bedford dentist. A dentist can use special procedures to identify cancerous and precancerous cells that aren’t visible to the naked eye. We will perform a more thorough evaluation to address any areas of concern to provide prompt intervention and treatment.
Maegan Elam, DDS & Associates encourages you to reduce risk factors that increase your risk for oral cancer. We recommend you perform a self-check monthly to catch possible signs of cancer early.