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What Is Oral Cancer?

oral cancer screeningMost people know that cancers are on the rise in the United States, but did you know that oral cancer is fast becoming one of the most prevalent and quickly rising cancers over many others? According to NewsMax Health, medical researchers at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit report that oropharyngeal cancers (which are cancers that affect that tongue, soft palate, tonsils, and back of the throat) have increased by 60 percent in the past 40 years (since 1973) in people who are age 44 and younger. The same report adds that oral cancers have risen by a staggering 113 percent in whites. Additionally, regardless of the fact that the rate of oral cancers has declined significantly for African Americans, the five-year survival rate of this group of Americans has become worse. All statistics are pointing to the fact that oral cancer is dangerous and deadly, and Americans must begin taking serious steps to preventing this horrible disease.

Symptoms of oral cancer

It’s important for everyone, especially those who are in high risk groups, to watch closely for the following symptoms of oral cancer:

  • Mouth patches that contain red, white, or mottled red-and-white patches in the mouth;
  • Mouth bleeding that appears to happen for no reason;
  • A feeling that something is stuck or caught in the back of the throat;
  • Lumps, crusty spots, swelling, or thickening of gums, lips, or on the inside of the mouth;
  • Significant weight loss without trying;
  • Pain in the ears;
  • Soreness in the throat, especially in the back of the throat;
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing food;
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue;
  • Difficulty speaking;
  • Chronic or frequent sore throats;
  • Hoarseness or changes of the voice; and
  • Changes in denture alignment or fit.

High-risk behaviors

The following groups are at an increased risk for developing cancers of the mouth:

  • Smokers of cigarettes, cigars, and pipes;
  • Smokeless tobacco users (smokeless tobacco includes chewing tobacco, dip, and snuff);
  • Family history of oral cancer;
  • Excessive drinkers;
  • Excessive sun exposure; and
  • Those who are sexually active.

Oral Cancer Prevention

There are several steps that can be taken to prevent oral cancer. These include the following:

1) Smoking and smokeless tobacco cessation are vital steps to take in preventing oral cancer. Smokers of cigarettes, pipes, and cigars are 6 times more likely to develop oral cancer than nonsmokers, while smokeless tobacco users are actually 50 times more likely.

2) Because those who are sexually active are more likely to develop oral cancer, it is necessary to use condoms every time you have sex. New research shows a correlation between the sexually transmitted disease HPV (human papillomavirus) and oral cancer. In fact, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation, recent studies have shown that HPV is the fastest-growing risk factor in developing cancers of the mouth, with 25 percent of all oral cancers occurring in people who are sexually active and yet do not drink alcohol, smoke, or use smokeless tobacco products. In addition, men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than are women, and men who are over the age of 50 are more likely to develop oral cancer than men who are under age 50.

3) Check routinely for signs of oral cancer, with careful and special attention paid to white or red lesions that may be pre-cancerous changes occurring in the cells of your mouth. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your dentist or doctor immediately. To perform self examinations, use a flashlight and a mirror to check mouth, lips, cheeks, tongue, gums, back of the throat, and roof of the mouth. In addition, feel around your lymph nodes for any swelling.

4) Decrease alcohol consumption. If possible, quit drinking alcohol completely.

5) Watch out for overexposure to the sun. Children can be especially sensitive to ultraviolet rays, so be sure to apply sunscreens, even to lips.

6) Discuss oral cancer and HPV screenings with your family dentist or doctor, especially if you are in a high-risk group. According to the American Cancer Society, everyone age 20 and up should be screened for oral cancer at least every three years.

Any symptoms of oral cancer should be taken very seriously because oral cancer can be fatal. It doesn’t have to be, though, if you take the necessary steps to preventing oral cancer before it starts. Routine self-exams, smoking and smokeless tobacco cessation, protected intercourse, regular dental visits, and oral cancer screenings are the best defense against developing oral cancer. If you don’t have a family dentist, especially if you are in a high-risk group, contact a top dentist in your area for an appointment in order to have an oral cancer screening performed as soon as possible.

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