In the United States this year, 31,000 new oral cancers will be diagnosed. Even with advances in surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, some 50% of these cancer patients will die of their malignancy. Delays in diagnosis allow tumors to invade deep into local structures and can spread to lymph nodes in the neck, resulting in this high mortality. Routine oral exams are an important part of controlling oral cancer. What Is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is a disease that occurs when malignant cells are found in the tissue of the lips or mouth. The oral cavity includes the front two-thirds of the tongue, the upper and lower gums (the Gingiva), the lining of the inside of the cheeks and lips (the Buccal Mucosa), the bottom of the mouth under the tongue, the bony top of the mouth (the hard Palate), and the small area behind the wisdom teeth (the Retroolar Trimone). Early Warning Signs of Oral Cancer* Any sores on the face, neck or mouth, that do not heal within two weeks.* Swelling, lumps, or bumps on the lips, gums or other, areas inside the mouth.* White, red, or dark patches in the mouth.
* Repeated bleeding in the mouth.
* Numbness, loss of feeling. or pain in any area of the face, mouth or neck.
The doctor should see if any of the above signs are present. Often lip and oral cavity cancers are found by dentists when examining the teeth.
Risks For Developing Oral Cancer
* The use of tobacco products.
* Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
* Exposed to sunlight on a regular basis.
* Having habits such as lip biting and cheek chewing.
* Having ill-fitting dentures.
Understanding the causative factors also contribute to the prevention and control of oral cancer. The most common related factor that may contribute to developing cancer is age. About 95% of oral cancers occur in persons older than 40.
Here are the treatments for all patients with oral cavity cancer:
* Surgery- the doctor may remove cancer and some healthy tissue around cancer.
* Radiation Therapy- the use of high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
* Chemotherapy- uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemo may be taken by pill or may be given in an IV.
Oral Self Examination
To perform the oral self-exam, follow the following 7 easy steps. Take a look and feel your:
1. Head and Neck – look at your face and neck in a mirror. Look for any lumps, bumps, or swellings that are only on one side of your face.
2. Face– examine the skin on your face. Are there any color or size changes, sores, moles, or growths?
3. Neck– press along the sides and the front of your neck. Do you feel any tenderness or lumps?
4. Lips– pull your lower lip down and look inside for any sores or color changes. Use your thumb and forefinger to feel the lips for lumps, bumps, or changes in texture.
5. Cheek– pull out your cheeks so you can see the inside, look for red, white, or dark patches. Put your index finger on the inside of your cheek and your thumb on the outside. Gently squeeze and roll your cheek between your fingers to check for lumps or areas of tenderness.
6. Roof of the Mouth– tilt your head back and open your mouth wide to see if there are lumps or if the color is different than normal. Run your finger on the roof to feel for any lumps.
7. The floor of Mouth and Tongue– stick out your tongue and look at the top surface for color and texture. Look at both sides of the tongue for any swelling or color changes. Examine the underside of your tongue by placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
If you find anything out of the ordinary, particularly anything that does not heal or go away in two weeks, or that has recently changed. Discuss it with your oral health professional or physician.