Oral Cancer, Am I At Risk?

Oral cancer refers to malignancies in the oral cavity and oropharynx.  The oral cavity includes the lips, lining of the lips and cheeks, hard palate, floor of mouth, teeth, front two-thirds of tongue and gums.  The oropharynx includes the tonsils, soft palate, back third of tongue, and back of throat.  In the United States, oral cancer is diagnosed in approximately 30,000 patients each year and is responsible for about 8,000 deaths.  Oral cancer is the sixth most frequently occurring cancer, and the most common sites are on the floor of the mouth and tongue.

Nearly three-quarters of all oral cancers are related to tobacco use – cigarette, pipe, cigar smoking, or the use of smokeless tobacco products such as snuff.  Tobacco products contain nitrosamines, which are carcinogens that cause cancer.  Chronic alcohol consumption is linked to oral cancers also.  The use of alcohol and tobacco together poses a greater risk than using either one alone.  Exposure to asbestos or radiation increases the risk, as while as, excessive exposure to the sunlight.  A high fat diet that is low in fruits, vegetables, and other sources of vitamins A and C has been linked to development of oral cancers.  Age, gender, and race affect the risk of developing oral cancers.  Oral cancer usually occurs among older adults because they have longer exposure to lifestyle and environmental risk factors.  Oral cancer occurs 2.5 times more often in males than females. 

Signs and symptoms of oral cancer depend upon the site of the tumor.  A lesion or abnormality of any kind should be examined by a professional.  A red or white lesion that does not go away is most common.  Symptoms such as, a lump or thickening in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, eating, chewing, moving of the tongue or jaw needs attention.  Numbness in the mouth or tongue changes in smell or taste, and changes in the fit and feel of dentures should not be ignored.

Diagnosis is an examination of the oral cavity done by a physician, dentist, or dental hygienist.  Regular self-exams may also detect some oral cancers; it is not a substitute for a thorough professional examination.  An oral examination performed by a professional using a mirror and lights, identifies abnormalities in the oral cavity.  X-rays may also need to be taken to examine a suspicious area.  A definitive diagnostic technique is a biopsy – removal of all or part of the suspicious area for examination under the microscope by a pathologist.

Early detection is the key.  Avoid smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.  Ask for an oral cancer screening twice a year at your dentist.  Everyone is at risk; tell your dentist or physician if you notice a sore in your mouth of any kind.

For more information call Heather Metzler RDH

For more information about Oral Cancer and Oral Cancer Screening you can contact Dr. Jeffery Hartman at (814)-643-9414 or (800)-732-9630; visit our Huntingdon Dental Office at 524 Washington Street • Huntingdon, PA 16652; or visit www.drhartmandentistry.com.

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