The presence of all kinds of cancer has surged in recent years, partly because of our ability to identify and diagnose it at an early stage. Unfortunately, cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and it can have a profound effect on anyone that suffers from it. This is why it’s so important to stay on top of self-examination and professional examination, especially when it comes to your oral health.
Oral cancer can strike in any of the numerous parts of your mouth. Typically, oral cancer takes place in the gums, lips, cheeks, tongue, or floor of your mouth. If not found and diagnosed early, oral cancer can be deadly. So, who exactly is at risk for oral cancer? And what signs do you need to look for when examining your mouth?
Who’s at Risk?
While everyone is technically at risk for contracting oral cancer, there are a few demographics that are at a higher risk than others. Men who are over 50 years of age are the greatest risk, but overall, men tend to be at a greater risk than women. Other factors to consider when assessing risk include things such as these:
- Family history of cancer is one thing most physicians and dentists will ask about during your first visit to their offices. If your family has a history of oral cancer, you are at a higher risk for getting it as well.
- Smoking is one of the biggest causes of oral cancer. In fact, people who smoke are six times more likely to get oral cancer than people who don’t smoke.
- Smokeless tobacco is worse than smoking, because the tobacco comes in direct contact with your gums and teeth. Those who use smokeless tobacco like chew, snuff, or dip are 50 times more likely to contract oral cancer—especially in the cheeks, lips, and gums—than those who don’t use it.
- Consumption of alcohol in excess can also lead to oral cancer, although not as much as consumption of tobacco in either of its forms. It’s more common for excessive drinkers to get oral cancer than those who drink lightly, or don’t drink at all.
- The human papillomavirus can cause oral cancer if you contract certain strains of it. Luckily, a vaccine has been developed to fight against HPV, which decreases your chances of being infected and eventually getting oral cancer.
If you are performing regular oral examinations on yourself, you should know what symptoms to look for so you can get a head start on fighting the cancer. As you perform these examinations, look out for these signs and symptoms:
- Sores on your face, mouth, or neck that don’t go away, even after several weeks
- Bleeding in your mouth with no apparent reason
- Swelling in your mouth
- Lumps or rough patches in your mouth
- Gums that look eroded or crusty
- White or red or speckled patches in your mouth
- Numbness or loss of feeling with no apparent reason
- Persistent soreness in your throat
If you notice any of these signs, it’s prudent to see your dentist immediately and ask about the possibility of oral cancer.
Seeing Your Dentist Regularly
While it’s important for you to regularly perform self-examinations for the signs and symptoms listed above, it’s just as important to visit your dentist on a regular basis for the sole purpose of checking for oral cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society recommends you get an oral cancer screening once every three years if you are over 20, and once every year if you are over 40.
These screenings are important because your dentist can identify symptoms that you may miss during your personal examinations. Some spots or patches in your mouth may be too small for you to see, and your dentist will be able to tell if they are something to be worried about after all. In addition, your dentist can take biopsies of the tissue in your mouth to determine for sure if it’s oral cancer.
Ultimately, your health should be number one. If you think you might be in the early stages of oral cancer, it won’t hurt to see your Denver dentist and check. Your dentist will be able to diagnose you and treat you early only if you go in early to get checked.