Cancer can be a scary word. It’s a serious, life-threatening condition that affects many Americans each year. But a better understanding of cancer, its warning signs, and risk factors, can help create more dialogue about this disease, and improve patients’ ability to receive early diagnosis and treatment. Oral surgeons are skilled in helping to discover, identify, and treat oral pathological lesions that could be signs of oral cancer. While lesions in the oral cavities or throat are not always indicative of oral cancer, about 50,000 cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed this year. Due to this growing number, it’s important that dental professionals continue to place oral cancer screenings at the top of their list of priorities at every routine examination. What is oral cancer? |
The American Dental Association defines oral cancer in the following terms: “Oral cancer is divided into two categories – those occurring in the oral cavity (your lips, the inside of your lips and cheeks, teeth, gums, the front two-thirds of your tongue and the floor and roof of your mouth) and those occurring in the oropharynx (middle region of the throat, including the tonsils and base of the tongue).” Today, the five-year survival rate of oral cancer is only about 60 percent.
What are the most common warning signs?
Oral cancer historically has been difficult to detect early on in its stages because of its location in hard-to-see areas of the neck, throat or mouth. It often does not present painful symptoms early on, which means many patients do not seek medical treatment until the disease has progressed into later stages. However, certain warning signs can help alert patients that a medical examination could be needed.
A lump or sore that does not heal.
Mouth sores (canker sores) are quite common, and often pop up for a number of reasons. Sometimes, a mild infection, hormones, stress, or vitamin deficiency can all cause a canker sore to erupt. However, canker sores usually go away within a few days. If you experience a mouth, tongue, or throat “sore” or lump that appears and does not go away, seek medical advice. An oral surgeon can perform a physical examination of the sore, and/or a biopsy to determine whether the sore is cancerous.
Chronic sore throat.
This can be a difficult warning sign for many patients to notice, as sore throats can come and go often without ever being “serious.” Allergies or a common cold can cause a scratchy or hoarse throat. However, persistent soreness, pain, or discomfort in the throat is not normal and should be checked out by your oral surgeon. Whether or not cancer is present, a chronic sore throat could be signs of another underlying condition which needs medical attention.
Pain or difficulty when swallowing.
Along with a sore throat, pain or soreness when swallowing is a sign that the pharynx, larynx, or esophagus could have an unseen lesion, growth, or some type of swelling that is causing the discomfort. Your oral surgeon may order a CT scan or ultrasound to obtain more detailed information about the internal throat structure.
Change in voice.
A change in voice could be due to temporary throat inflammation from a sore throat or cold. But a more permanent voice change could be a sign that the vocal cords or trachea are facing some sort of interference or damage. If a loved one or friend points out a noticeable voice change, be sure to have it checked out with your oral surgeon.
To learn more about oral cancer and its risk factors, visit the American Dental Association’s page at: https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/o/oral-cancer. Dr. Chris Tye, of Texas Oral Surgery Specialists, is trained to identify the risk factors for oral cancer as well as conduct cancer screenings and biopsies. Visit txoss.com to learn about our approach to oral pathology.
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