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Living in this world

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Oral Cancer and the Signs You Shouldn't Ignore

Oral cancer might not be one of the most well-known cancers, but unfortunately, more and more people are diagnosed with some form of this disease each year. What makes it worse, is that unlike other types of cancer, diagnosis frequently will not occur until the latter stages of the disease. By this time the disease is much more difficult to treat and may have become life-threatening.

Which Parts of the Mouth Can Be Affected by Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer may affect your lips, the insides of your cheeks, your tongue, the roof and floor of your mouth as well as your sinuses and throat. It may cause several different symptoms, and it's worth being aware of these symptoms so you know what to look out for.

What Type of Symptoms Can Be Caused by Oral Cancer?

One of the most common symptoms of oral cancer is developing an ulcer-like sore spot that simply fails to heal. Most ulcers should heal on their own within a week or two, but sore spots that fail to heal after several weeks should always be investigated by your dentist. This also applies to sore spots that bleed very easily and which can develop on the face or neck, as well as inside the mouth.

Oral cancer can also cause changes to the texture inside your mouth as for example areas may begin to feel roughened or crusty. It can cause lumps or bumps to develop, or certain areas may start to become swollen or thickened. This disease can create color changes to the tissues inside your mouth, and you may notice that white or red patches have begun to develop or these patches may even be speckled, white and red.

It can result in unexplained numbness, or certain areas of your mouth or face may begin to feel tender or painful. Your throat could become sore or it may feel as if something is caught in its right at the back. Moving your jaw or tongue might become more difficult, as could chewing or swallowing.

Oral cancer can affect your voice, making it more difficult to speak or causing the sound of your voice to change or to become hoarse. People with dentures or other dental appliances may notice they fit differently and oral cancer can cause your teeth to move slightly so they may not bite together quite so well as before. Other changes include dramatic weight loss and pain that can even affect your ears.

Who Is More at Risk of Developing Oral Cancer?

Smokers may not be surprised to hear they are more at risk. If you smoke cigarettes, cigars or a pipe, you’re six times more likely than a non-smoker to develop some form of oral cancer. Your risk of this disease also greatly increases if you use smokeless tobacco products, and these products increase the risk of developing cancer inside your cheeks or on your gums or inside your lips.

If you use alcohol to excess, you’re about six times more likely to develop oral cancer compared to a teetotaller. Your risk also increases if you have a family history of cancer or have sunbathed to excess, especially when you were young, and being exposed to the human papillomavirus also increases your risk for oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma.

Even if none of these risk factors apply to you, you cannot rest easy as around a quarter of all oral cancers are diagnosed in people who do not have any risk factors, who only drink occasionally and who do not smoke.

How Can My Dentist Help?

Did you know an oral cancer screening is part of your regular dental checkup? Your dentist may carry out this screening every year, or every couple of years or so depending on your level of risk or your concerns about developing this disease. So, what exactly will happen during your regular oral cancer screening?

Some dentists visually examine the inside of your mouth, gently lifting your tongue out of the way so they can see the floor of your mouth. They will carefully feel the tissues for any signs of lumps or bumps and will gently feel your neck to see if the lymph glands are enlarged in any way.

This is a very good test, but some practices have chosen to use special hand-held devices that emit a light. When directed at your oral tissues, this light will fluoresce slightly differently if there are any areas where the tissues are slightly different. This makes it easy for your dentist to identify any areas of concern and to take appropriate action.

What Happens If They Find Something Wrong?

If your dentist thinks something requires further investigation, they will want to take a small sample of your tissue so it can be sent off for analysis by a specialist. Cells can be taken using a brush biopsy, and this is a quick process that simply involves drawing tiny brush over the suspicious area so it can collect the cells.

Alternatively, your dentist may want to take a larger sample of tissue that will be removed under local anesthetic, or they may choose to send you directly to a specialist so they can carry out the biopsy.

What Is the Prognosis If I Do Have Oral Cancer?

This largely depends on how far cancer has spread, as obviously if it is caught early enough then the prognosis is much better. Overall, the one-year survival rate for patients with all types of oral cancer is 81%, while the five-year and 10-year survival rates are 56% and 41%. It really does pay to make sure you see your dentist regularly so they can carry out this quick test.

Another thing to do is to pay attention to the inside of your mouth and to carry out a quick self-examination every month. To do this, stand in front of a well-lit mirror and carefully examine the inside of your mouth to see if any areas look differently colored to others. Gently feel the inside of your mouth to check for lumps or bumps, or for any areas of tissues that are differently textured.

By doing this once a month, you will soon get to know what is normal, so that if anything does look wrong you can visit your dentist for a more detailed examination. You should always contact your dental office if you are at all worried about any changes to the inside of your mouth, as it is always better to be safe than sorry.

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