Oral cancer is a dangerous, yet somewhat preventable, type of cancer. It kills more people nationwide than either cervical or skin (melanoma) cancer, and only half of all patients diagnosed will survive more than five years. The most common risk factors for oral cancer are tobacco use, frequent high quantity alcohol consumption, constant sunlight exposure, habitual cheek or lip biting, or poorly fitting dentures. Although 80-90% of oral cancers are found in people who use tobacco and/or drink alcohol excessively, 25% of oral cancers occur in people who have no risk factors at all.
Your dentist could very well be your #1 soldier in the fight against oral cancer. Statistics show in about 10% of patients, dentists notice a problem area first. During a regular dental check-up, your dentist will examine your entire mouth, searching for a flat, painless, white or red spot or small sore. Other signs of oral cancer can include:
- A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
- A color change of the oral tissues
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small, eroded area
- Pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips.
Two different tests are used to determine if the spot is cancerous or not. A brush biopsy is a painless test performed on areas that look harmless or do not have a clear cause. This test can detect potentially dangerous cells when the disease is still at an early stage. A scalpel biopsy, which requires local anesthesia, is usually performed on suspicious and dangerous looking areas. Remember to visit your dentist regularly. If you notice any unusual changes in your mouth, call your dentist immediately. Together you and your dentist can fight and win the battle against oral cancer.