In November, the warm coats come out, and most people are starting to think about Thanksgiving and the countless other holiday festivities that are just around the corner. Little do people know that it’s actually Mouth Cancer Action Month, a time when extra attention is paid to oral cancer. This condition isn’t talked about often in the media, but it’s actually more deadly than both skin and cervical cancer, and not everyone who gets it is a heavy smoker or drinker. Fortunately, with a little know-how and some simple habits, you and your loved ones can make sure you stay safe and don’t add to the ever-growing statistics.
Oral Cancer: The Facts & Figures You Need to Know
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, over 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2019 alone. While this is certainly a high number, what is more sobering is that only 50% are expected to survive the next five years. Traditionally, oral cancer was thought to be the result of widely known harmful practices like tobacco use and alcohol consumption. However, oral cancer rates are actually on the rise despite these practices becoming less popular. In fact, about 25% of all new cases are found in patients who don’t smoke or drink excessively.
Over the years, research has revealed that factors like too much sun exposure, habitual cheek biting, and even human papillomavirus (HPV) can drastically increase someone’s risk for oral cancer. Rates of HPV have exploded among young people recently, and as a result, oral cancer is increasingly being found in relatively healthy people.
What You Can Do About Oral Cancer
While everything detailed above sounds pretty dire, thankfully, oral cancer is preventable, plus it can often be effectively treated when detected early. What is the best way to catch it before it becomes too advanced? For one, you should keep an eye out for these initial signs:
- Oral sores that don’t heal after two weeks
- A white or red patch of tissue that sticks out in the mouth
- A new lump or growth in the mouth
- Pain or numbness in the lips, mouth, or tongue
These indicators can easily be missed by untrained eyes, however, so it’s also important to get a professional oral cancer screening at least once a year. What kind of doctor provides these? You probably already know them—your dentist!
Whenever you come in for a checkup and cleaning, your dentist will take a few minutes to search for any signs of precancerous or cancerous tissues. If they spot something suspicious, they can organize for a biopsy to be taken, which can lead to a definitive diagnosis. That way, if treatment is necessary, it can be started right away.
Take Action This Month
So, by avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and just attending your regular dental checkups, you can largely keep yourself protected from oral cancer as the years go by. This month, you can also help others by asking about the last time they got a cancer screening and letting them know how simple they are (it consists of a gentle visual and tactile exam that only takes a couple of minutes). Now, you can do your part to make sure this terrible disease doesn’t affect you or a loved one.
About the Author
Dr. Michael Kirk is a proud Oklahoma City dentist with more than 25 years of experience taking care of local families. He always performs an oral cancer screening whenever patients come to see him, and he recommends giving him a call right away if you notice any of the symptoms listed above. To schedule your next checkup and screening or ask a question, contact us today.