Today’s message focuses on a very serious topic—oral (oropharyngeal) cancers. The medical community designates oral cancers as a subset of head and neck cancers.
Oral cancers can occur in the following locations:
- The tongue
- The roof of the mouth and under the tongue
- The inside of the cheeks
- The oropharynx (the part behind the soft palate)
- The salivary glands
- The lips
Oral Cancers Are Particularly Deadly
Over 50,000 individuals annually are diagnosed with a type of oral cancer. They are more than twice as prevalent in men. There is no disparity when it comes to blacks or whites. Oral cancers claim over 10,000 victims per year.
The statistics reveal that only 57 percent of those diagnosed this year will be alive in five years. Talk about a grim outlook.
Let’s discuss the common—and the not-so-common—warning signs of oral cancer.
Any soreness or lump in the mouth or throat should be taken seriously. Any white or red patch could also be a symptom.
Receiving an oral cancer screening is another reason to visit The Plano Dentist twice a year for an exam. Healthcare providers who don’t have the specific training for early onset oral cancer may confuse or miss early signs.
Here, at The Plano Dentist, Dr. Mejia can tell you if you should be worried or not.
The Cold Sore Connection
Firstly, we know cold sores are not dinner-talk for most people. However, did you know that if you have a history of cold sores, you are at an increased risk of receiving oropharyngeal (oral) cancer?
Don’t Ignore These Signs!
You will want to get checked out if you:
- Have a lump or thickening in your throat
- Have white or red patches on your tongue, tonsils, or lining of your cheeks and gums
- Notice numbness of any oral feature
- Have any type of lesion, cut, or canker-type sore that doesn’t heal within 14 days
Less-common symptoms include tongue pain and loose teeth. A hoarse voice that doesn’t go away should be a concern. Unexplained tooth discoloration is rare but not unheard of.
It’s a misconception to think any of these signs can’t lead to problems.
Early Diagnosis Can Save Your Life
Getting checked for oral (or any) cancer regularly is crucial for multiple reasons, but it is ultimately necessary because you want to catch it early. So you have the highest chance of survival. While it usually does not start to show symptoms until around age 40, it occurs in younger patients as well.
It is also more widespread for those who use smokeless, (chewing or spit) tobacco to get oral cancer. Many individuals argue that these are safer than smoking conventional cigarettes. This may be true when it comes to lung cancer. But you need to consider contracting other problems like oral cancer(s), pancreatic cancer, and/or chronic infections that can bring about heart issues later on.
Also, don’t assume vaping is less dangerous. Though there is less research on the health risks of vaping, it certainly hasn’t been proven to be risk-free.
Smoking + Alcohol = A Dangerous Combination
While we are discussing tobacco and vaping, we also need to mention alcohol. For many people, they go together. Those who both smoke and drink have a 15 times greater likelihood of developing oral cancer than those who do neither.
Exposure to UV Rays Advances Risk of Lip Cancer
Lip cancer can be considered both oral cancer and skin cancer. Most of us have been warned that unprotected sun exposure is dangerous. But many of us overlook the lips when applying sunscreen. Pick up some SPF balm when you get sunscreen. Don’t forget that eating, drinking, and licking your lips can wipe it away. Reapply often. Wear wide-brim hats as protection. Be especially careful between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
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