Early detection of oral cancer can be achieved by regular examinations of the mouth by a health care professional. Tissue changes in the mouth that might signal the beginnings of cancer often can be seen and felt easily and appropriate action can be taken.
The oral cavity and oropharynx has many parts. It consists of your lips; lining of your cheeks; salivary glands; roof of your mouth; back of your mouth; floor of your mouth; your gums and teeth; and your tongue and tonsils. Any of these parts can be affected by Squamous cell cancer, the second most common type of skin cancer.
Squamous cell tumors can be cured if they are removed promptly. The outlook depends on a number of factors, including how quickly it is diagnosed. The diagnosis relies on patient presentation and physical examination with biopsy confirmation.
Studies have confirmed that survival rates are linked to the stage (spread) of the cancer, timing of the diagnosis and the treatment options available. Despite advances in surgical techniques, radiation therapy technology and the combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the survival rates have not shown appreciable changes in decades.
On average, 60% of those with the disease will survive more than 5 years. Those that do survive often endure major functional, cosmetic, and psychological burden due to dysfunction of the ability to speak, swallow, breathe, and chew.
75% of all head and neck cancers begin in the oral cavity and according to the United States’ National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Ends Results program, 30% of oral cancers originate in the tongue, 17% in the lip, and 14% in the floor of the mouth.
Tobacco and alcohol associated lesions tend to favor the front part of the tongue and mouth and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) positive lesions tend to favor the back of the oral cavity.
Historically, 75% of persons with oral cancer are said to be smokers or alcoholics above age 50, but recent research indicates that HPV positive disease is rapidly changing these ratios. Now, younger, non-smoking patients under the age of 50 are the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population. The infection of the mouth with HPV occurs as a result of a large number of males and females performing oral sex acts. In reality, any person using tobacco and alcohol or has had head and neck cancer before, or has had more than 3 oral sex partners, has a significant risk of developing an oral, head and neck cancer.
A thorough, systematic examination of the mouth and neck need only take a few minutes and can detect these cancers at an early and curable stage. Alcoholics and smokers without a doubt require frequent examinations to ensure that they are cancer free. In fact, everyone should have frequent examination because 1 out of 4 oral, head and neck cancers (especially in patients over the age of 50) are detected in patients who do not smoke or drink alcohol. All patients, therefore, regardless of their history, need to be screened at least once a year by their physician or dentist.
Two mouth changes that could be precursors to cancer are leukoplakia (white lesions) and erythroplakia (red lesions). Leukoplakia is commoner than erythroplakia, but erythroplakia and lesions with erythroplakic components have a much greater chance for becoming cancerous. Any white or red lesion that does not resolve itself in 2 weeks should be examined by a heath care professional and considered for biopsy to obtain a definitive diagnosis.
Patients may also complain of a lump or thickening in the oral soft tissues, soreness or a feeling that something is caught in the throat and difficulty chewing or swallowing. Other common complaints are ear pain, difficulty moving the jaw or tongue, hoarseness, numbness of the tongue or other areas of the mouth and swelling of the jaw that could cause dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable. If any of the above problems persist for more than 2 weeks, a thorough clinical examination and laboratory tests are necessary and should be performed to obtain a definitive diagnosis. If a diagnosis cannot be obtained, referral to the appropriate specialist is indicated.
The American Cancer Society advises that dentists and doctors examine the mouth and throat as part of a routine oral cancer related examination. This is to ensure early detection of any suspicious changes. Please visit your dentist or doctor if you have one or more of the risk factors mentioned above or if you desire to have a comprehensive oral cancer screening.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended and may not be treated as, a substitute for professional medical/dental advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or dental professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical/dental condition. Never disregard professional medical/dental advice or delay in seeking it because of a purely informational publication.
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