April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, a cause and initiative that we strongly believe in promoting and addressing. One important message that we try to emphasize to our patients is that regular dental checkups are about more than just your oral health, they’re about your health in general. Every 6-months when you come in to visit with us, one of the actions we’re taking during your checkup includes performing an oral cancer screening. To assist in our cancer prevention efforts, we will check your lips, head, neck, tonsils, salivary glands and mouth tissues (like the surface of your tongue) for any visible signs of oral cancer. This helps us to identify any abnormalities within the mouth or symptoms that could possibly lead to oral cancer.
Oral Cancer Statistics
According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, 54,000 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed this year. Of these 54,000 cases, 43% of individuals will not live longer than 5 years and those who do survive typically suffer from long-term issues, like difficulties with eating and speaking. Moreover, “the worldwide burden of oral cancers is an estimated 657,000 new cases of cancers of the oral cavity and oropharynx each year, and more than 330,000 deaths.” (World Health Organization data) Keep in mind, many cases are not reported and actual data can be hard to obtain, specifically from third-world countries so this estimate may be conservative.
One of the primary reasons for this high mortality rate is because oral cancer is often diagnosed once it has already reached the later stages of development. By committing to and maintaining your bi-annual checkups, we can help you to reduce your chances of identifying oral cancer in its later stages.
Potential Signs & Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer has been largely attributed to heavy tobacco usage as well as excessive alcohol usage, though those are not its only causes. Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms of oral cancer:
- Sores or ulcerations that last longer than 2 weeks
- Any type of oral abnormality that bleeds upon touching
- Lumps or hard spots located in the tissue, usually found on or around the border of the tongue
- A sore under a denture that does not heal, even after being adjusted
- A lump or thickened surface that develops in the mouth
- Red, white or black discoloration of the tissue in the mouth
- Firm, fixated and painless lump found on the outside of the neck
In general, you should get any mouth-related sore, lump or hard spot that has persisted and hasn’t resolved itself checked by your oral healthcare professional.
About Oral Cancer Awareness Month
For each April over the past 22 years, several of the nation’s top dental associations have joined together with the Oral Cancer Foundation to raise awareness for oral and oropharyngeal cancers. These organizations include the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD Foundation), the Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, the American Academy of Oral Medicine, the American Academy of Periodontology, and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association among others. This is an important reminder to the public that when these cancers are detected and treated early, then mortality and treatment related health problems are reduced.
As always, we encourage you to contact us with any general or immediate questions or concerns regarding the state of your oral health. We’re committed to making your dental visit as comfortable as possible!