Most people don’t think their family dentist could save their life, but the truth is that they can. This year over 52,000 Americans will be newly diagnosed with oral and throat cancers. When detected in the early stages of disease, these cancers have an 80– 90% chance of survival. However, the reality is that most of the cancers won’t be diagnosed until later stages the person will not live longer than five years after the initial diagnoses.
Since April is national Oral Cancer Awareness month, I thought it was important to review the risks and signs of oral cancer.
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. If you or your partner/spouse has a history of HPV, your risk for developing throat cancer may increase. It is known that men have a three times greater chance of developing throat cancer due to the HPV virus than women. There are a small percentage of people (about 7%) who develop oral and throat cancers with no apparent cause. In these cases it is believed that a genetic predisposition may exist.
Knowing the signs of oral and throat cancers
There is no age discrimination when it comes to oral and throat cancer. These cancers can affect anyone at any age. The following list contains the signs and symptoms that can be associated with oral and throat cancer:
- A sore or lesion that does not heal within two weeks
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, floor of the mouth, inside of the cheek
- A lump or thickening of the cheek
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Persistent sore throat, hoarseness, or changes in your voice
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
- Swelling of the jaw that can cause a denture to fit poorly
- Persistent swollen lymph nodes under the chin and along the sides of the neck
Each year the death rate for these cancers continues to grow. By raising awareness and knowing your risks for developing the disease we can decrease the death rate and increase the survival rate.
Please know your risk for developing oral and throat cancer. Discuss your risks with your dental team and ask your family dentist for a head and neck cancer screening at every visit that may include use of the VELscope, a special non-invasive light that evaluates the cells below the surface. Your dentist should exam your lips, tongue, throat, gums and feel your lymph nodes. It only takes 4 minutes and it could save you life.