Approximately 40,000 Americans receive an oral cancer diagnosis each year, and over 8,000 people will die each year from the disease. Of those diagnosed with the oral cancer, only 57 percent will live longer than five years after receiving their diagnosis. This places the death rate of oral cancer at a higher number than other forms of the disease that often receive more attention, such as testicular, skin, and throat cancer.
The reason oral cancer has such a high mortality rate speaks more to how late in development the disease is usually discovered, more than how difficult oral cancer is to diagnose. The disease often goes unnoticed until it has metastasized to another part of the body, such as the lymph nodes in the neck. By the time the cancer has spread, the original tumor has had enough time to imbed itself deep inside the surrounding tissue. Oral cancer often has the time to spread because, in its early stages, the disease can easily go unnoticed by a patient who does not know what to look for.
Even those individual who win their fight with oral cancer remain at risk. Individuals fortunate enough to survive an initial bout with oral cancer remain 20 times more likely to develop the disease again for five to ten years following their initial diagnosis.
Fortunately, it’s now easier than ever before for your friendly TenderCare Family Dental dentist to spot oral cancer during the early stages of the disease, while the chances of successfully treating the cancer remain much higher. Regular checkups with your dentist, combined with knowing some of the early signs of the disease, can help ensure your oral health remains strong and cancer free.
What to Look For
Oral cancer has several early warning signs of which everyone should be aware, and can include:
• The disease often begins as a tiny white or red spot, or sore, located anywhere in the mouth
• Oral cancer can affect any part of the mouth, include the lips, gums, cheek lining, tongue, and the palate
• The disease can cause your teeth to shift and incorrectly fit together
• Oral cancer occurs most often in individuals who regularly use any tobacco products
• You develop sores that easily bleed and do not heal
• The oral tissue in your mouth changes color
• A combination of pain, tenderness, or numbness occurs anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
• You have trouble moving your jaw or tongue, which then causes difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking
What You Can Do
The difficulty a layperson has spotting oral cancer means scheduling regular checkups is key to finding and preventing the spread of the disease. Dr. Thompson and the rest of the staff at TenderCare know how to spot small irregularities that look harmless, but could portend a more serious condition. If an irregular spot seems suspicious, Dr. Thompson can have cells from the area tested in a lab to determine whether they are cancerous. When caught early, the lesion can be removed surgically, and the odds of recovery dramatically increase.
Given the serious nature of oral cancer, it only makes sense to take every precaution you can against the disease. Don’t find yourself looking back wondering what could have been had you taken your oral health more seriously.