Oral cancer is one of the most common yet overlooked causes of death worldwide. Each year, about 48,000 Americans are diagnosed with this condition.
Most people have no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. As cancer spreads, it may cause mouth sores, ulcers, and sore throat. You might also notice white patches on the tongue or lips.
Unfortunately, these symptoms are non-specific, which makes diagnosis difficult. Only 60 percent of patients will survive more than five years.
Regular screenings are the only way to prevent oral cancer. These tests can also detect the disease in early stages when treatment is most likely to succeed.
What Is Oral Cancer?
Approximately one percent of the population will develop mouth cancer at some point. This form of cancer occurs on the inside of the mouth. It can affect the gums, lips, and tongue.
Common symptoms include:
- Pain in the neck
- Loose teeth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Mouth ulcers and sores that don’t heal
- Lumps in the mouth or neck
- Unexplained weight loss
- Changes in speech
Smokers and heavy drinkers are more likely to develop this disease. The risk is up to 50 percent higher in those who chew tobacco and six percent higher in drinkers.
If one of your family members had oral cancer, you may develop this condition too. Other risk factors include the HPV virus, smoking, and alcohol consumption. Prolonged exposure to sunlight may increase your risk too.
Mouth cancer is asymptomatic in its early stages. Most suffers receive a diagnosis after the cancer has already spread to the lymph nodes of the neck. At that point, treatment options are limited.
Can Regular Screenings Prevent Oral Cancer?
Health experts recommend routine dental exams for a good reason.
During regular screenings, dentists check for any signs of mouth cancer, such as white patches and hard spots or lumps. They can also assess your risk and teach you how to prevent the disease.
A routine examination can save your life. The dentist will look at the floor and roof of your mouth, check your gums, and examine your lips. If anything unusual comes up, he will prescribe further tests.
For instance, the dentist might find sores in your mouth. In this case, he will ask you to come to his office within two weeks or so. If the sore heals during that time, you have nothing to worry about.
Regular screenings are essential to maintaining healthy teeth. These medical exams can detect early warning signs of cancer, hypertension, and diabetes.
Your mouth can tell a lot about your health. Cold sores might be a sign of HPV infections or mouth cancer. If your tongue is whitish, you may have a yeast infection.
Jaw pain can indicate a TMJ disorder, which occurs in over 10 million Americans. Many times, it’s a symptom of fibromyalgia or osteoarthritis.
To prevent oral cancer, see your dentist at least twice a year. Regular dental exams are even more important for those who smoke or have a weak immune system.
Remember that health is your wealth. The cost of a dental check-up is low compared to what you’d have to pay for treating mouth cancer or even cavities.
Schedule an appointment at the dentist today! Your future self will thank you!