The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that close to 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. Oral cancer’s mortality is particularly high, not because it is hard to detect or diagnose, but because the cancer is often discovered late in its development.
Factors That May Cause Cancer
Research has identified a number of factors that may contribute to the development of oral cancer. In the past, those at an especially high risk of developing oral cancer were over 40 years of age, heavy drinkers and smokers.
While smoking and heavy drinking are still major risk factors, the fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients is young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals under the age of 40. Recent research has identified the human papilloma virus version 16 as being sexually transmitted between partners and related to the increasing incidence of oral cancer in young non-smoking patients. There are also links to young men and women who use conventional “smokeless” chewing or spit tobacco.
Perform a Self-Exam Monthly
Everyone should perform an oral cancer self-exam each month. The oral exam should be performed using a bright light and a mirror:
- Remove any dentures
- Look and feel inside the lips and the front of gums
- Tilt head back to inspect and feel the roof of your mouth
- Pull the check out to see its inside surface as well as the back of the gums
- Pull our your tongue and look at all of its surfaces
- Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in both sides of the neck including under the lower jaw
When performing a self-examination, look for the following:
- White patches of the oral tissue – leukoplakia
- Red patches – erythroplakia
- Red and white patches – erythroleukoplakia
- A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
- An abnormal lump or thickening o the tissues of the mouth
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
- A mass or lump in the neck
Your mouth is one of your body’s most important early warning systems. Don’t ignore any suspicious lumps or sores. Should you discover something, call our office for an appointment. If we determine that something looks suspicious, a biopsy may be recommended. A biopsy involves the removal of a piece of the suspicious tissue, which is then sent to a pathology laboratory for a microscopic examination that will accurately diagnose the problem. The biopsy report not only helps establish a diagnosis, but also enables us to develop a specific plan of treatment.
Early treatment may well be the key to complete recovery.