Did you ever think your family dentist could actually save their life? Fact is, they can. This year over 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer. If detected during the early stages of disease, oral cancer has up to a 90 percent chance of survival. Unfortunately, most of the cancers won’t be diagnosed until later stages and the patient risks not living longer than five years after the initial diagnosis.
The next time you visit your dentist is an ideal time to address this important issue. It is important to know the risks for developing oral and throat cancers. The most obvious of risks are smoking and drinking alcohol over a long period of time. Another risk is the HPV-16 virus (human papilloma virus). This is the same virus associated with cervical cancer in women.
About 7 percent of people develop oral cancer with no apparent cause. In these cases it is believed there may be a genetic predisposition.
Oral cancer can affect people at any age. Here are some of the signs and symptoms that may be associated with oral cancer:
- A sore or lesion that does not heal within two weeks
- A red or white patch on the gum, tongue, tonsil, floor of the mouth, or inside cheek
- A lump or thickening of the cheek
- Difficulty swallowing or chewing
- A persistent sore throat, hoarseness, or change in your voice
- Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue
- Swelling of the jaw that can cause a denture to fit poorly
- Persistent swollen lymph nodes under the chin and the sides of the neck
By raising awareness and knowing your risks for developing oral cancer we can increase the survival rate. Be sure to ask your family dentist for a head and neck cancer screening at every visit. Your dentist should also exam your gums, lips, throat, tongue and examine your lymph nodes. It only takes a few minutes and it could save your life.