Oral cancer. When many people think about cancer, they think of pink ribbons and “walking for a cure.” If they have personal experience with melanoma, they may think of skin cancer and how easily it can be treated if caught early and how deadly it can be if undetected. However, most people do not even think of a type of cancer that kills roughly one person per hour, 24 hours a day: oral cancer.
It’s a silent killer, with about 53,000 Americans receiving this diagnosis each year and only about half surviving to the five-year marker after receiving that diagnosis. Perhaps even more troubling is that the survival rate has not improved in the past decade. Oral cancer kills more people than cervical cancer or Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but most people are far more familiar with the signs and risks associated with these diseases than with those associated with cancer of the mouth.
Oral Cancer Affects Patients of All Ages
Like skin cancer, oral cancer can be a relatively minor issue if it is detected early. However, most cancers of the mouth are not discovered until they are in the late stages. Although the majority of patients are 40 years old or older, there is a distinct and growing population of young people falling prey to this disease. The Oral Cancer Foundation’s scientists speculate this could be due to the growing popularity of “smokeless” chewing tobacco, which many young adults believe is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, and the growing prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) in younger populations. Although HPV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), it affects oral health as well in many individuals.
How To Spot Oral Cancers
Cancer of the mouth can be difficult to detect in its early stages because the disease is painless and does not always manifest obvious physical changes. Because oral cancers in early stages look remarkably similar to a bite on the inside of the mouth, most patients have no idea they have a problem. More obvious issues that indicate potential problems with oral cancer include difficulty speaking, swallowing, and chewing. Most dentists recommend an immediate consultation if you have these symptoms or if you have a sore in your mouth that does not heal within 14 days.
Early Detection is Crucial
If your dentist suspects you have oral cancer, an inexpensive biopsy will resolve the question quickly and easily. Once you know what you are dealing with you can take the necessary steps to protect your health and destroy the cancer permanently.
Regular visits to your dental practitioner are crucial for maintaining your oral health since your dentist is the most likely person to spot a potential oral cancer. Detecting the problem early is the key to your survival.