Becky Larson, RDH
Oral Cancer Awareness
It’s April again! Which means Oral Cancer Awareness month. I can’t even begin to tell you how critical it is to receive regular oral cancer screenings. Your dentist and/or dental hygienist should perform a basic screening at your six month check-ups. We also recommend having a more in depth oral cancer screening (such as the Velscope, Oral ID, or Identafi) annually. These more in depth screenings use florescent or ultra violet lights that can detect signs of oral cancer much earlier. The earlier cancer is caught, the sooner treatment can begin and the better the prognosis.
Oral cancer is any abnormal growth of cells in the oral cavity (mouth). Abnormal cell growth can be benign (no cause for concern) or malignant (can be life-threatening). The oral cavity consists of the lips, cheek lining, salivary glands, hard and soft palates, uvula, tongue, floor of the mouth (underneath the tongue), gums, and tonsils. The tongue and the floor of the mouth are the most common areas for oral cancer to occur. However, the cancer can spread to other areas of the oral cavity and/or other areas of the body.
Oral cancer can manifest itself in many ways including swellings, lumps or bumps, numbness, abnormal bleeding, white patches, red patches, speckled patch, sores that do not heal, sore throat, pain when chewing/speaking/etc., changes in voice, ear pain, and dramatic weight loss. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms please visit your dentist or primary care physician.
Risk factors for oral cancer include tobacco use, alcohol use, sun exposure, having HPV (Human papillomavirus), and a history of having oral cancer previously. Tobacco use is the reason for most oral cancers, especially in those individuals who have used tobacco for lengthy amounts of time. The risk increases when tobacco users become heavy alcohol drinkers. Three out of every four oral cancers occur in people who use alcohol, tobacco, or both. The Human papillomavirus is mainly linked to oropharyngeal cancers. Limiting sun exposure and the use of sun screen and lip balm can help reduce the risk. Men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women. It is also important to note that more than 25% of oral cancers are found in individuals with no risk factors.
Everyone is at risk! Make sure to visit your dentist and dental hygienist for regular oral cancer screenings.
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