What is Oral Cancer?
Mouth cancer or oral cancer is just like other cancers which are caused by problems with cell replication resulting in tumors. Over 43,000 Americans (on average 118 per day) will be diagnosed with mouth cancer this year. Unfortunately, many of them will already have advanced cancer when the disease is found.
Mouth cancer can occur on the:
- Inner lining of the cheeks
- Roof of the mouth
- Floor of the mouth (under the tongue)
Most mouth cancers are detected in people over the age of 40, with the average age of diagnosis at 60. Men used to be much more likely than women to be diagnosed, but the ratio has dropped over the years. Men are still 2x as likely to have mouth cancers than women.
Oral Cancer Screenings
While most people think about Dentists as doctors for your teeth, dentists are actually also doctors for general oral health, including gums and soft tissues of the mouth. Dentists are the primary screeners for cancer in the mouth.
During routine cleanings and oral exams we keep an eye out for signs of oral cancer, but we also offer more extensive exams for those with high risk factors or suspicious spots in their mouth.
Oral cancer screenings are necessary because detecting cancer in the mouth early helps with successful treatment. Since a screening is part of a routine dental checkup, that makes it easy for you.
What Causes Oral Cancer?
While there are numerous causes, these are the primary risk factors.
1. Tobacco use in any form.
2. Alcohol use, especially heavy consumption or combined with tobacco.
3. Prior diagnosis of Oral Cancer.
4. HPV16 Virus
About 80% of all people diagnosed are tobacco users. Cancer in the mouth or throat may be caused by smoking. Cancer in the cheeks, gums and the inside of the lip are often attributed to use of chewing tobacco.
HPV is a growing cause of mouth cancers. Most of these are located in the back of the mouth in or near the tonsils and the base of the tongue.
Symptoms of Mouth Cancer
- Red or White discolorations in the mouth
- Sores that do not heal in 14 days
- A sore under a denture that does not heal after adjustment
- Prolonged hoarseness
- Sensation something is stuck in your throat
- Unexplained numbness in the mouth
Early Detection is Important
Oral cancer is quite deadly, partly because it produces few symptoms until the disease has progressed. In fact, sometimes it is not found until after it has spread and the cancer has been found in another location in the body. Early detection that finds the cancerous cells prior to spreading improves the 5-year survival rate from 32% to 83% according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
Screening with the VELscope
Traditional oral cancer screenings are primarily visual, relying on the dentist or doctor’s trained eye to spot unusual cells in the mouth. At Smiles by Design, we use the VELscope system to enhance our ability to spot unusual cells. VELscope is a small, lighted scope that Dr. Schraw uses to look inside your mouth. The scope makes it easier to spot possible cancer by making abnormal tissue appear significantly different than healthy tissue. Dr. Schraw can then investigate any unusual tissue and, if needed, a biopsy can be performed to determine if the abnormal cells are cancerous.
Oral Cancer Treatment
While dentists are primary screeners, they don’t treat cancer. Oral cancer is treated in the same way most cancers are treated. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and nutritional support may all play a role in treating oral cancer once it has been found. Your oncologist will design a plan that is best for treating your particular case.
For much more information about Mouth Cancer, visit the Oral Cancer Foundation