This month marks the 20th annual observance of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, over 50,000 people in the US were diagnosed with oral cancer, and over 10,000 people died from the disease. The 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is only around 57%, making it more deadly than many other types of cancer. But if oral cancer is caught and treated early, the 5-year survival rate jumps to over 80%. This is one reason why regular dental checkups are so important—we can be your best ally in detecting oral cancer in its early stages.
Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because it often develops without pain or obvious symptoms. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment, but signs of the disease frequently go unnoticed until the cancer is advanced. Fortunately, dentists and dental hygienists are trained to recognize signs of oral cancer in the early stages, when it is most treatable. Oral cancer can appear on any surface of the mouth and throat, with the tongue being the most common site, particularly along the sides, followed by the floor of the mouth. As part of a regular dental exam, we examine these surfaces for even subtle signs of the disease.
Screenings performed at the dental office are the best way to detect oral cancer, but between dental visits it's a good idea to check your own mouth for any of the following: white or red patches, lumps, hard spots, spots that bleed easily or sores that don't heal. Let us know if any of these symptoms don't go away on their own within two or three weeks.
Using tobacco in any form is a major risk factor for oral cancer, especially in combination with alcohol consumption. Although the majority of people diagnosed with oral cancer are over age 55, the fastest growing segment of new diagnoses are among young people due to the rise in cases of sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) in young adults.
A routine dental visit can do much more than preventing and treating tooth decay and gum disease—it might even save your life! If you have questions about oral cancer or are concerned about possible symptoms, call us as soon as possible to schedule an appointment for a consultation.