According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, only slightly more than half of individuals newly diagnosed with oral cancer will be alive in 5 years. This type of cancer is especially dangerous because it’s typically discovered after spreading to other areas of the body.
In fact, improvement in survival rates of oral cancer has remained relatively stagnant, with only a 7% survival rate increase over the past few decades. That is why catching oral cancer in its early stages still remains a crucial factor for successful treatment.
In observance of National Oral Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Del Kovacevic and his talented staff encourage Greensburg patients to learn more about the symptoms and risk factors associated with oral cancer.
What Is Oral Cancer?
As with any cancer, oral cancer refers to the abnormal cell growth in an area of the body. For oral cancer, this cell growth occurs in the mouth or throat. This can include the lips, tongue, throat, salivary glands, pharynx, larynx, and sinuses.
Oral cancer is categorized in a group known as head and neck cancers. Out of this category, oral cancer comprises approximately 85% of cases.
Symptoms Of Oral Cancer
This type of cancer is notorious for its relatively low survival rate. However, it’s important to note that the low survival rate is related to late stage discovery and not lack of adequate treatment. Late stage discovery is common because most patients can overlook the early signs of oral cancer.
If you notice any early signs of oral cancer, you should visit your doctor immediately. Some of the signs and symptoms include:
- White or red lesions in your mouth or on the lips
- Unusual swelling
- Numbness or tenderness in the mouth
- Sores, lumps or thick patches in and around the mouth
- A lingering sore throat
- Teeth feeling loose for no reasons related to dental health
Oral Cancer Risk Factors To Consider
What causes patients to develop oral cancer? This is not an easy question to answer since there are so many factors related to each individual’s health history, genetics, and lifestyle choices. Although you may not be able to avoid oral cancer altogether, it can be easier to keep an eye out for this disease if you know what risk factors are relevant to you.
Some of the most common risk factors include:
Age: With many diseases, our risk increases as we age. According to the American Cancer Society, a majority of those diagnosed with oral cancer are 55 or older.
Tobacco Use: It’s well documented that using tobacco products can have devastating effects on the body. Whether you smoke or chew tobacco, you are at risk for developing many health issues related to the mouth, including oral cancer. Obviously, the longer an individual uses tobacco products, the more their risk increases.
Gender: Oral cancer is far more common in men than women. It’s estimated that men are twice as likely to get oral cancer. This can be due to higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use in men than women.
Alcohol: Heavy drinkers are also at risk for developing oral cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined heavy drinking as two drinks a day or more for men and more than one drink a day for women. Drinking heavily in combination with tobacco use will also significantly increase your risk of developing oral cancer.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): This sexually transmitted disease is common in younger patients that are diagnosed with oral cancer. Oropharyngeal cancer, in particular, is most commonly associated with HPV. The HPV family contains almost 200 strains with only 9 associated with cancers. While most HPV infections clear up on their own without any consequences, it’s important to note that it has a connection to oral cancer.
The Importance Of Oral Cancer Screenings
Going to the dentist regularly isn’t just important for keeping your smile healthy and beautiful. Your dentist can also be the first to notice any early signs of oral cancer. We strongly encourage our patients to also make it a habit to have an oral cancer screening each year.
Oral cancer screenings are quick and painless, and especially important for patients that identify with one or more of the risk factors mentioned above. During this screening, Dr. Kovacevic will complete a routine exam of your teeth and gums while also looking for discoloration or abnormalities in your oral tissues.
In the end, it’s crucial for patients to take charge of their health and to be aware of risk factors related to oral cancer.
Contact Dr. Del Kovacevic
Are you due for an oral cancer screening? Whether you need a screening or a routine dental cleaning, we’re committed to providing you high-quality, personalized care. To find out more about our dental services, contact our office today to schedule your no-obligation consultation with Dr. Del Kovacevic.