Oral cancer is the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells on the lips, tongue, cheeks, sinuses, palate, on the floor of the mouth or in the pharynx, which is the throat. These cancers can threaten your life and may be hard to detect. They cause a variety of symptoms or may have no symptoms at all. Being alert to any change in the condition of tissues in these areas can alert you to see your doctor as soon as possible.
Statistics on Oral Cancer
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, about 45, 700 people will be diagnosed with oral and pharyngeal cancer this year in America. These cancers will cause the death of 8,650 Americans. The death rate is higher for these types of cancers because they are not generally found and diagnosed in the early stages. Those who are fortunate enough to survive oral cancer are 20 times more likely to develop a second cancer. About 90 percent of oral cancers are the squamous cell carcinoma type. These cancers cost nearly $3.2 billion dollars in treatment, according to 2010 figures.
Risks for Developing Oral Cancer
Several situations can put an individual at increased risk for developing this type of cancer:
- Those who smoke or use smokeless tobacco are at higher risk.
- People who consume large amounts of alcohol also increase their risk for oral cancer.
- Individuals with a family history of cancer are at higher risk.
- Those who are exposed to ultraviolet rays of the sun for long periods of time, particularly at a young age, are at higher risk.
- People exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV) have a higher risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Changes in cell structure can cause a number of different symptoms, including:
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Hoarseness, chronic sore throat or voice changes
- Problems eating, chewing, moving the jaw or speaking
- Unexplained numbness in the mouth, throat or on the face
- Sores in the mouth that don’t heal
- Weight loss
- Changes in position of the teeth or dentures
- Ear pain
Diagnosing Oral Cancer
Your dentist may find suspicious areas in your mouth. A biopsy of the tissue in the area can be sent to the lab to determine if the cells are abnormal. The dentist can then refer you to a cancer specialist for treatment.
Treatment of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is generally treated by surgically removing the abnormal tissue and then using radiation or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancerous cells. Sometimes, both radiation and chemotherapy are used.
Preventing Oral Cancer
Good oral hygiene that includes regular visits to your dentist will help to prevent oral cancer or find it in the early stages. You should also eat a healthy diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean meats. If you smoke, join a smoking cessation program or talk to your doctor about medications that can help you stop. When out in the sun, wear sunscreen and don’t forget to use an appropriate sunscreen product on your lips.
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