The month of April is dedicated exclusively to raising awareness of an often overlooked cancer – oral cancer. Smiles by Shields, a holistic dental clinic located in Jacksonville, Florida, wants to take part by providing accurate information to current and prospective patients.
Take a few moments to read this information about oral cancer. You never know when this information might help you save a life!
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is a general term that is used to describe any type of cancer that occurs within the mouth and parts of the throat. Healthcare professionals have actually taken oral cancer and separated it into two distinctive categories – oral cavity and oropharynx.
The type of oral cancer you have will depend upon where the cancer cells are found. Oral cavity cancer often has cancer cells that occur in the gums, floor and roof of the mouth, teeth, cheeks, lips and the front part of the tongue. Oropharynx cancer occurs in the tonsils and back of the tongue near the base.
Both cancers have the ability to spread into each other. That is why it is so important to get an early diagnosis of oral cancer.
Early Diagnosis Leads to More Treatment Options
It is often said that early diagnosis of cancer can save lives. This applies to oral cancers. Diagnosis in the early stages can result in successful treatment that leads to you living a long, happy life with minimum side effects or problems.
Early diagnosis of oral cancer is also important as it provides you with more options for treatment. Treatment options for oral cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and surgery. The earlier the cancer is caught, the more options you may have and the less invasive the treatment may be.
Symptoms that Could Indicate Oral Cancer
Unlike some cancers that are considered “silent” and have no noticeable symptoms, oral cancer is noticeable even in the early stages. Most patients who are diagnosed with oral cancer exhibit some signs or symptoms.
Signs and symptoms that are often associated with oral cancer include:
- Development of red or white patches in the mouth
- Tenderness or extreme pain that occurs in the lips or mouth
- Small areas of the mouth that appear to look like a lump or that have a crusty, eroded appearance
- Sudden changes in the way your mouth closes or how your teeth fit together
- Sores that never seem to heal
Many of these symptoms are similar to other common health or dental problems. It is recommended that if these symptoms don’t go away after two weeks, you schedule an appointment with your dentist or healthcare provider to get screened for oral cancer.
How Does a Dentist Check for Oral Cancer?
Most dentists, including Dr. Shields, check for oral cancer at during every routine examination. Dentists are able to check for oral cancer symptoms because they are working so close to the mouth, teeth, and gums that any visible symptoms are usually noticeable.
In addition to a visual examination, dentists will often ask you questions about your current lifestyle choices, previous medical history, family medical history, and about symptoms or problems you may have experienced or noticed. All of the information you provide will help your dentist determine if you may be at risk for oral cancer.
If it is determined that you have a high risk of developing oral cancer, your dentist may conduct a more complete examination. A complete examination for oral cancer includes closely inspecting all areas of the mouth from the tonsils and back of the tongue to the cheek lining, gums, and teeth for any abnormalities. Your dentist may look for any lumps, bumps, or abnormalities by carefully feeling around your neck or jaw.
While your dentist may be able to screen for signs and symptoms of oral cancer, he or she usually cannot diagnosis it. If your dentist suspects you may have oral cancer, he or she will often refer you to your primary care physician, an oral surgeon, or oncologist for further testing.
Worried you may be at risk for oral cancer? Call Smiles by Shields and schedule an appointment for a routine dental examination. Our routine dental examinations include a visual screening for oral cancer.