February  01 , 2019

February is Oral Cancer Screening Month

When you're in for your next appointment, ask about an oral cancer screening. It's simple, quick, painless, and it saves lives.  Oral cancer goes by several names. It's called mouth cancer, lip cancer, tongue cancer, or oral cancer.

Every year, approximately 36,000 Americans are diagnosed with some form of oral cancer. And, surprisingly, while other cancers are on the decrease, oral cancer is on the rise. That figures out to about 100 new cases per day.

So, being informed is the best way you can protect yourself.

Get the Facts
A good first step is to know the risk factors for oral cancer. The biggest include:

  • Using tobacco or alcohol – particularly in combination
  • Exposure to human papilloma virus version 16 (the same virus implicated in cervical cancer)
  • Too much time in the sun
  • A family history of cancer

At the same time, it’s important to remember that anyone can get oral cancer. In fact more than 25% of people with oral cancer don’t smoke or use alcohol to excess.

Know the Odds
When oral cancer is diagnosed early the  usual survival rate is between 80 and 90%. But when it isn’t found until it’s reached its later stages it’s far harder to treat. The overall 5 year survival rate is just 45%.

  • Oral cancer is usually treated by some combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, the mix varies depending on the individual and how promptly the cancer was diagnosed.
  • When oral cancer is found early it can usually be treated effectively without changing a person’s appearance or ability to function.
  • When it’s discovered later, treatment can cause considerable disfigurement and make it hard for patients to chew, swallow or speak clearly.

Early detection is key – but it isn’t easy. The signs and symptoms of oral cancer are hard to see and can look very much like other conditions.

Take Action
There ARE things you can do to protect yourself, though. For example, Experts recommend you do a self exam at least once a month. Make sure you look carefully at your lips, tongue, gums, cheeks and the rest of your mouth. Also, feel for lumps on your neck and lower jaw. If any of these signs show up, then call the office for an appointment so the doctor can further investigate your symptoms.

Because it can be so hard to find signs of oral cancer yourself, the American Cancer Society also recommends you have your dentist do a cancer screening every three years if you’re over 20 and every year if you’re over 40.

We Can Help
Because we are aware of the danger of oral cancer, screening is a routinel part of your regular exam. We have the equipment to carefully examine your mouth, tongue, neck and jaw – and the skill to tell the difference between a symptom that’s harmless and one that could be a warning sign of cancer.

Your entire oral cancer screening takes just a few minutes, and it’s totally painless. In fact it’s so easy, you may not have realized what a truly lifesaving procedure it can be.

Which brings me to one last thought. If you know someone who hasn’t been to the dentist in a while, please urge them to make an appointment for an exam that includes a cancer screening. It just might be the most important thing you do today.