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What You Need to Know About Oral Cancer

Cancer: It’s a word that no one wants to hear. To allow for early detection, most people see doctors regularly (or at least occasionally) for testing, depending on their ages, risk factors, and family history. You might not know this, but every time you see your dentist, you’ll have a visual screening for oral cancer. Here are some facts about oral cancer that might be a surprise to you.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

The symptoms of oral cancer might not be noticeable unless you are looking for them. Commonly, it will start off as a sore or bump in the mouth. Because bumps and sores are common and usually harmless, it’s easy to just ignore it and then get used to it. Any sore, lump, patch, or bump that persists for two weeks or more should be checked by a dentist.

Other symptoms include hoarseness, numbness or a pins-and-needles feeling in the mouth or throat, unexplained bleeding, and a change in the way your teeth fit together. If you wear dentures and they stop fitting correctly, this is another sign that needs to be checked.

Risk Factors

People, particularly men, who are over the age of 50 have a higher risk of developing oral cancer, especially if they also have a family history of cancer. Smokers are the most at risk. So are people who use smokeless tobacco or drink a lot of alcohol. Some oral cancers are caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV.

It’s important to know, however, that many people who develop oral cancer don’t have any of these risk factors. If you notice anything unusual going on in your mouth, have it checked even if you are a young non-smoker.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If your dentist suspects that you might have oral cancer, he or she will refer you to your primary care physician, an oral surgeon, or an oncologist. That doctor can take a biopsy to confirm or rule out the diagnosis. If you do have cancer, an oncologist will go over your options with you. You might have chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery.

The prognosis for oral cancer is better if it is caught early, so it’s important to have any sores, lesions, or concerning symptoms checked as soon as you notice that they’re not going away. Please call our office promptly if you have any signs that concern you. Chances are good that it’s not cancer, but since early detection is key, it’s important that we take a look and refer you for further testing if warranted.

Creative Commons image by Gisela Giardino