On an average day in the United States, more than 130 people will learn that they have oral cancer. In an average hour, one person will die from this disease.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, which is why we are taking time today to discuss some things everyone should know about it. When you visit our Bryant, AR office for regular cleaning and exam, we also conduct an oral cancer screening.
Thankfully, most patients don’t show any signs or symptoms of this disease. But if you do, you will want to know about it as soon as possible. Early detection leads to more successful treatment. That’s even more important with this oral health issue than it is for cavities or gum infections.
With any oral health issue, you want to take preventive steps whenever you can. It’s why we encourage you to brush and floss daily. It’s also why we want you to know about the top risk factors for oral cancer.
Tobacco use is far and away the biggest risk factor. Any tobacco product — cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco — contain carcinogens. This might explain why health experts estimate conservatively that tobacco is a factor in 3 out of 4 new cases of oral cancer.
You may be surprised to learn that alcohol use also increases your risk of getting this disease. To be more specific, consuming 21 or more drinks weekly or drinking alcohol while using tobacco is known to make you more likely to have mouth or throat cancer.
HPV-16, the same strain of human papillomavirus that can cause cervical cancer, also increases your odds of having oral cancer. In recent years, vaccines have been developed for this strain of HPV. Health experts recommend the vaccine for kids around 12 years old. (Talk to your doctor about whether vaccination would be useful for older kids and adults.)
A small number of oral cancer cases have no identifiable cause. You can’t completely eliminate your risk, but you can take steps with regard to the top known causes of this disease.
Learn The Signs & Symptoms
When oral cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, the five-year survival rate is between 80 and 90 percent, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation. That survival rate drops to 57 percent for patients who are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease.
With that in mind, here are some symptoms you should know:
- Lumps on the lips, in the mouth, or in the throat or neck
- Patches of tissue that appear red, white, or a mix of both
- Numbness or pain in the lips, mouth, or neck
- Hoarseness or a sore throat that doesn’t improve
- Mouth sores that have not healed for two weeks
- Difficulty eating, swallowing, and speaking
If you are having one or more of these symptoms, you may want to contact your doctor to determine if a test is needed.
We hope you will come to visit Dr. Ouellette’s office in Bryant soon. We also hope you will keep coming back for decades. Getting regular dental exams with oral cancer screenings can help make that more likely.
To request a visit, contact us online or call 501-214-6126.