dentist performing oral cancer screening on woman for oral cancer early detection and prevention

Why Oral Cancer Screenings Save Lives

Oral cancer is not something to mess with; it kills roughly one person every hour of every day. Yikes! And twice as many men are diagnosed with oral cancer than women. Of those diagnosed with oral cancer, 57% have a five-year survival rate, meaning over half are alive five years after diagnosis.

However, a whopping 25% of those with oral cancer do not have any known risk factors; cancer may appear without understood reason. Plus, more people show no initial symptoms of oral cancer! So it’s no wonder oral cancer is often discovered in its later stages of development, leaving the diagnosed with a lower survival rate.

So, what is the good news? First, oral cancer is easy to screen for and diagnose—you can even do an oral cancer screening at home. Second, if found early on, oral cancer has an 80% chance or higher survival rate—meaning you can beat it!

Causes of Oral Cancer

Cells in your mouth or lips become cancerous when they develop mutations, or changes, that cause cells to keep growing when they should stop. The overgrowth of mutated, cancerous cells can form a tumor that may spread to the head, neck, and other body parts.

While the main cause of mouth cancer remains unclear, we do know several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing cancer. Most of these risks are controllable, so you can lower your risk of oral cancer by stopping any risk factors you have.

Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

Many cases of oral cancer stem from prolonged use of smoking and smokeless tobacco products, as well as long-term alcohol use in conjunction with tobacco. In more recent years, researchers discovered that exposure to the sexually transmitted HPV16 virus contributes to oral cancer. That’s why young adults and teens are suddenly more at risk.

List of risk factors:

  • Tobacco use of any kind (chewing tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, pipes, snuff, etc.) – Tobacco exposes the cells of your mouth to cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Heavy and long-term alcohol use – Excessive alcohol use irritates the cells in your mouth and makes them vulnerable to mouth cancer.
  • Sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV16) – HPV can infect your mouth and throat, causing cancerous tumors to form.
  • Compromised immune system – People with weak immune systems have fewer T cells; those cells scan your body for cancer cells and destroy them.
  • Unprotected, prolonged sun exposure on your lips – Cells damaged by the sun are more susceptible to forming cancer.

Lastly, a very small percentage (< 7%) of oral cancer cases may be due to genetic predisposition. However, a handful of studies are testing this statistic’s accuracy.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

What does oral cancer look like? Indicators can be sores on lips or in the mouth, white or red patches in the mouth, changing voice, difficulty chewing and swallowing, swollen jaw, and even thickening gums. Each person diagnosed with oral cancer will have differing symptoms from the next person. Also, note that some symptoms can look similar to those of a different medical problem.

If you’re worried you have oral cancer symptoms, come for an oral cancer screening today.
woman with oral cancer symptoms bump on gums

How to Treat and Prevent Oral Cancer

Treatment for oral cancer varies from person to person. Your doctor will prescribe a treatment plan based on your age, medical history, what your cancer looks like, tolerance for medications, and your personal preference. They may also recommend a combination of treatments.

Oral Cancer Treatments

  • Surgery – A surgeon may remove your cancer from your mouth and repair your mouth afterward. If your cancer may have spread to your lymph nodes, your surgeon will likely remove those too.
  • Radiation – Radiation therapy stops the spread of cancer through high-energy rays that damage cancer cells. Your doctor can treat the cancerous spot with a machine or radioactive materials.
  • Chemo – Chemotherapy treatment kills cancer cells throughout your body, usually by medication. Often, chemo is part of a combination of treatments.

Oral Cancer Prevention

Detecting oral cancer at an early stage could save your life. So how do you detect oral cancer early? In addition to lowering your risk factors through lifestyle changes, you can perform at-home screenings for mouth cancer every month. Visit the website “Check Your Mouth” for a full guide on how to check for oral cancer. The self-exam takes about 5-10 minutes, and all you need is a good mirror, a bright light, and some sterile gauze.

For the self-exam, you should check your

  • Neck
  • Lips
  • Gums
  • Inside your cheeks
  • Tongue
  • Floor and roof of your mouth
  • Back of your throat

Check for any color change, growth/swelling, or unusual bumps. Of course, a self-exam does not replace a doctor’s visit. You should still ask your dentist to check for oral cancer during your annual visit.

What Parents Can Do To Keep Small Kids Safe

It’s sad to say that even young children can get oral cancer too. While oral cancer in kids is rare, parents should take preventative measures and stay on top of early detection. Bring your children in for regular checkups and ask for oral cancer screenings. A friendly pediatric dentist will happily make sure your child’s mouth is healthy.

oral cancer screening at local dentist office for oral cancer prevention

When & How Often Should I Have Oral Cancer Screenings?

Parents and adults should get tested yearly. Because oral cancer is still primarily found in adults, younger children may not need an oral cancer test. Regrettably, however, more teenagers and adults contract HPV16 every year, increasing their risk of oral cancer. Therefore, screening may be necessary for this younger age group. Consult your child’s pediatric dentist about whether your child should consider an oral cancer screening.

If you notice a few possible symptoms, call your local dentist for an examination. The earlier the detection, the greater the chance of a cure. Don’t wait—ask your local dentist about oral cancer screenings at your next check-up! Call us or request an appointment online today. Going to the dentist has never been easier!