Each year over 34,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer. More than 8,000 die from it every year which is about one person each hour, 24 hours per day. Of the 34,000 people who will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year, only half will still be alive five years from now.
If you include cancer in the throat, that figure of 34,000 rises to 41,000 and the death number rises to 12,500. The death rate of oral cancer is one of the highest of all the cancers. If you look at the problem worldwide, over 400,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.
The high death rate is not because oral cancer is hard to diagnose. It is because oral cancer is typically detected in a late stage. Cancers are thought of in four stages and the earlier they are diagnosed, the better are your survival chances. The early stages of oral cancer are not often noticed by the affected person and not every dentist does oral cancer screening.
Winterholler Dentistry now has a VELscope, recommended by Dr. OZ, for accurate and quick oral cancer screening.
What Is Oral Cancer?
All cancers involve the uncontrollable growth of malignant cells which invade and destroy the healthy surrounding tissue. Included in the term “oral cancer” are cancers of the:
- Floor of the mouth
- Hard and soft palate
These cancers are life-threatening when they are not diagnosed and treated early enough. Under a microscope they look similar. They are known as squamous cell carcinomas, meaning that they are malignant tumors which arise in the surface (epithelial) cells of the interior of any body cavity or outside surface of any organ, and that they will spread (metastasize).
Tobacco & Alcohol
Use of tobacco and alcohol are the leading causes of oral cancer. All forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and chewing (smokeless) tobacco, are linked to oral cancer.
- The risk of oral cancer increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Tobacco use is most likely to cause oral cancer in the floor of the mouth, but also causes it in the oral cavity and oropharynx and on the lips.
- The risk of oral cancer increases with the number of alcoholic drinks consumed per day. Alcohol use is also a risk factor for leukoplakia (an abnormal white patch of cells) and erythroplakia (an abnormal red patch of cells), both of which may become cancer.
Being exposed to sunlight may increase the risk of lip cancer, which occurs most often on the lower lip. Avoiding the sun and/or using lip balm with sunscreen or using colored lipstick may decrease the risk of lip cancer.
We are seeing an increase in the cases of oral cancer being detected in young women and men in the ages of 18-25. That is why the American Dental Association (ADA) is recommending oral cancer screening for all adults aged 18 and above. Infection with a certain type of human papillomavirus (HPV) may increase the risk of oral cancer.
Using marijuana may increase the risk of oral cancer. Marijuana use by a person with high-risk HPV infection may further increase the risk of oral cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
If you notice any of the following changes, immediately call or email our office for a full examination. Do not delay, as any possible cancer should be identified as quickly as possible, so as to maximize the effectiveness of treatment.
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth. Be sure and come for your regular hygiene visits so we can rule out periodontal disease [link to Periodontal Therapy] as the cause of the bleeding.
- Swelling or thickening in any area of the mouth. You might notice this as a lump or bump. Or you might develop a rough area with crusting, or notice loss of tissue.
- Red or white patches anywhere in the mouth. They might be speckled red and white.
- Numbness, pain or tenderness in the face and neck areas which has no apparent cause.
- A sore throat or a feeling as if something is stuck in your throat.
- Difficulty with moving the jaw. That could translate into difficulty with speech, chewing or swallowing. If you notice these symptoms, please contact our office for a check of possible Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD / TMJ)
- Changes in your voice, such as chronic hoarseness.
- Pain in the ears.
- A large weight loss.
- Sores on the face which easily bleed and do not clear up in a about two weeks.
- A change in your bite; that is, in the way your teeth (or dentures) come together.
Tips to Help Reduce Your Risk of Oral Cancer
- Eat lots of fruit and fiber-rich food
- Schedule regular dental hygiene visits
- Have oral cancer screenings at our office. We do both visual checks and use a VELscope tool, which can detect cancerous cells before they can be seen.
- Quit smoking
- Reduce your intake of alcohol
With today’s technology and improvements in dental care, we are able to detect any abnormal cell growth before it is visible to the human eye. We offer cancer screening with every routine check-up and cleaning.
To schedule a consultation with Dr. Winterholler, please call or schedule online with our implant and general dentistry office today. We serve Phoenix, Scottsdale and Payson in Arizona and we look forward to meeting with you.