It’s not too hard to find ads, social media posts, commercials, and partnerships for cancer-related causes in the media. But how many times have you seen an organization based around oral cancer getting that kind of attention?
Oral cancer is a very real and very dangerous form of cancer. It kills an incredibly high amount of people who are diagnosed with it, and the primary reason isn’t because it’s more dangerous – it’s because awareness is so low.
We always perform oral cancer screenings as part of our exams at Panama City Smiles, but that’s just one part of preventing and stopping the spread of oral cancer. To truly protect yourself you need to know what oral cancer is, how it appears, and what could put you at risk.
Oral Cancer: How Dangerous Is It?
In five years approximately 50 percent of patients diagnosed with oral cancer will be dead. That’s a very high number for a cancer that doesn’t affect a vital organ, and it’s because oral cancer is so good at staying hidden.
Visual inspections have long been the primary way of identifying oral cancer, and most visual inspections don’t pick up on physical symptoms until it’s too late. Oral cancer that is easily visible is usually quite progressed, and in some cases has metastasized elsewhere in the body.
Newer screening technology has made diagnosing oral cancer easier, but it hasn’t done much to improve the survival rate. That’s why you need to be doing at-home checks in your own mouth, as well as being aware of non-visible symptoms that can indicate the beginnings of oral cancer.
If you are developing oral cancer you may notice:
- white, red, or speckled spots in your mouth
- swelling or thickening of tissue
- redness and discoloration or bumps in tissue
- crusty sores that last longer than two weeks
- bleeding in the mouth that can’t be identified
- hoarseness in the throat or when speaking
- trouble swallowing
- swelling that changes your bite or makes dentures fit differently
- a feeling that something is caught in your throat
- pain in your ear that doesn’t include hearing loss
- bleeding sores on your face, neck, or lips that won’t heal
It’s a terrifying disease, but with proper monthly checks at home you can make your survival chances much higher. You’re the only one who lives with your mouth every day, so you can be the first to notice when something changes!
What’s Your Oral Cancer Risk Factor?
Some of the risk factors for oral cancer are beyond your control. Others are lifestyle choices and habits that you can – and probably should – change.
- Smoking tobacco in an fashion increases oral cancer risks sixfold. Smokeless varieties Smokeless tobacco increases your risk fifty times!
- Heavy drinkers are just as likely to develop oral cancer as smokers.
- A poor diet, specifically one lacking fruits and vegetables, greatly increases oral cancer rates.
- Excess sun exposure can cause oral cancer on the lips, which can easily move into the mouth and throat.
- A family history of cancer of any kind can contribute to oral cancer risks.
- People who carry the human papillomavirus, specifically HPV-16, have dramatically higher rates of oral cancer.
In short, if you want to do everything you can to reduce your oral cancer risks you should eliminate all tobacco use, cut down on alcohol, eat better, and wear sunscreen – even on your lips. That’s not exactly a tall order to fill, but it can be really difficult. We encourage you to get all the support you need to change these habits – you could be saving your life!
How We Can Help
When you come to see us for regular six month exams we’ll do an oral cancer check as part of the standard process. If you’ve noticed any symptoms at home, especially non-visible ones, you’ll have a chance to tell us so we can go more in depth on our check.
If we spot dangerous tissue we’ll perform a biopsy to determine if the cells are cancerous. Once we know for sure that you’re healthy or it’s cancer we can plan for the proper treatments with your doctor.
Awareness Saves Lives
We want to do everything we can to make your smile – and you – stay healthy for years to come. If you need to see us for any reason you can call our Panama City office and schedule an appointment today!