The statistics are sobering. Approximately 53,000 new cases of oral cancer were reported in the U.S. in 2019 alone, resulting in the estimated death of almost 11,0000 people from all walks of life. And if you think you aren’t susceptible because you’re a non-smoker, think again. The risk for oral cancer can be just as much the result of both a genetic predisposition and poor dietary and nutrition habits as it is tobacco.
But oral cancer isn’t untreatable. In fact, the overall 5 year survival rate for patients diagnosed with either oral or oropharyngeal cancer is 65 percent, with numbers reaching as high as 84 percent if diagnosed early enough.
Those numbers alone should convince you of the importance of early oral cancer screenings. But screenings alone aren’t enough. You have to know what to watch out for specifically.
Symptoms Of Oral Cancer
During an oral cancer screening, dentists may look for any number of symptoms. Some of the most common can include:
- Consistent difficulty in chewing, speaking, swallowing or moving the jaw.
- Displacement in teeth or jaw.
- Erosion, lumps, thickness or unnatural abrasions inside the mouth.
- Pain, soreness and irritation inside the mouth and lips.
- Numbness and pain when biting.
- Reddish or white patches.
- Spots inside the mouth which bleed continuously.
Where Does Oral Cancer Occur?
There are two forms of oral cancer. One form is within the oral cavity itself, which includes the front of your tongue, your gums, the insides of your cheeks, your lips, teeth and the roof of your mouth. The other is oropharyngeal cancer, which occurs in the throat; including the base of your tongue and your tonsils.
Am I At Risk For Oral Cancer?
Patients with the following factors have a higher susceptibility to oral cancer:
- Aged 40+
- Excessive drinking habits
- Poor diet
- Previous diagnosis of HPV (human papillomavirus)
- Prolonged exposure to the sun
- Tobacco usage (including smokeless tobacco and vaping.)
How Can An Early Screening Prevent Oral Cancer?
It’s important to remember that oral cancer typically won’t be diagnosed until tests are run at a lab; so if your dentist notices any abnormality, stay calm. It may not be cancer, but a benign disorder that can be easily treated without invasive surgery.
A screening alone won’t prevent cancer. If diagnosed early enough, oral cancer can be treated successfully through any number of therapies, often with a substantially higher success rate than other forms of cancer. But most dentists and oral specialists will agree that the best preventative care is a change in your lifestyle. Review the above listed factors and eliminate or address any particularly high risk elements. Consult with your dentist about the best course of action for you if tests come back positive. You might find that a change in habit won’t just change the health of your mouth. It will transform every single part of you.