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Posted on: November 21, 2022
Oral Cancer Action Month
Oral Cancer Action Month comes every November. During this time, healthcare experts nationwide raise awareness about oral cancer and how people can protect themselves from it.
What Are Mouth Cancers?
Mouth cancer, also called oral cancers and oral cavity cancers, typically occur on the lips, tongue and floor of the mouth, though they can also start in the roof of the mouth, gums, minor salivary glands, lining of the cheeks and lips or in back of the wisdom teeth.
Some growths and tumors appearing in or around the oral cavity are precancerous, meaning they could turn into cancer but they aren’t cancer yet. They may also be completely benign, meaning they’re neither cancer nor precancer.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer symptoms vary for different people but, among them, may include leukoplakia and erythroplakia. These are persistent spots or areas in the oral cavity of a particular color (leukoplakia, white; erythroplakia, red.) Erythroplakia may also be raised and bleed easily when scraped; it also stems from leukoplakia, which makes for speckled white and red patches during the transition.
Around one-fourth of white patches and 70 percent of red patches are precancerous or cancerous.
Other potential signs of oral cancer include:
- An unhealable mouth sore
- Unexplainable loose teeth
- A lump or growth in the neck
- A thickening or mass in the jaw, face, tongue, gums or cheek
- A persistent and painful mass or sore in the mouth
- A persistent mass or sore in the mouth that causes dentures to fit poorly
- Inability to chew, swallow, speak or move the tongue or jaw around without difficulty
- Persistently bad breath
- Weight loss you can’t explain
Mouth Cancer Causes
A large proportion of oral cancer cases are caused by certain risk factors.
Many of those diagnosed with mouth cancer use some form of tobacco–whether smokable or smokeless. The longer one uses tobacco and the more they use over that time, the greater the risk.
The kind of tobacco one uses can play a role in where in the mouth cancer occurs. For example, using chewing tobacco and snuff has been linked to cancers of the lips, cheeks and gums, while pipe smoking has been linked to cancers of the soft palate and lips.
Exposure to secondhand smoke has also been linked to an increased risk of various oral cancers.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Many of those diagnosed with mouth cancers drink alcohol heavily, which means drinking over 21 alcoholic beverages per week.
Combining alcohol and tobacco magnifies the respective risks they pose even further, making someone more than six times likelier to get mouth cancer than those who neither drink alcohol nor use tobacco.
Additional risk factors for oral cancer include:
- Advanced age
- Prolonged sun exposure
- Long-term irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures
- Poor nutrition
- Immunosuppressive drugs
- Previous neck or head cancer
- Radiation exposure
- Lichen planus
- Drinking maté tea
- Chewing betel quids
- Several genetic disorders
All that said, not all cases of oral cancer are caused by risk factors; some patients develop it with no known risk factors at all.
Preventing Oral Cancer
Of the various cancers, mouth cancers are some of the most preventable. Here are some ways to keep your chances of developing mouth cancers to a minimum:
- Avoid all forms of tobacco.
- Only drink alcohol in moderation
- See your dentist in Connecticut at least once each year.
- If you wear dentures, take them out at night and clean them every day.
- If you wear dentures, have a dentist assess them at least once every five years.
- Limit exposure to the sun ; wear a UV-A/B-blocking lip balm and a brimmed hat.
- Eat a diet that’s well-balanced and nutritious, including a variety of vegetables and fruits.
If you do get oral cancer, early diagnosis is the best way to help yourself treat it quickly, easily and fully. Call us to schedule an appointment for a dental exam and oral cancer screening with a Connecticut dentist.
Oral Cancer Diagnosis
Early detection and diagnosis of oral cancer vastly increases your odds of effective treatment. Therefore, it’s critical to see your dentist for oral cancer screenings regularly and perform monthly self-exams for oral cancer at home.
While your dentist will have a more well-trained eye, skilled hand and advanced tools, both you and your dentist will essentially perform this screening the same. You will both visually and physically (through touch) examine the entire inside of your mouth as well as your face, head and neck. You’re looking for discolorations, lumps, growths, masses or changes in appearance. If you detect anything like this in a self-exam, notify your Connecticut dentist immediately. If your dentist notices it, he or she will then order a biopsy to determine if it’s cancer or not.
Your Oral Care Treatment Team
Your treatment for oral cancer will likely be provided by an entire team of healthcare specialists starting with your dentist in Connecticut. It also may include a:
- Head and neck surgeon specializing in treating mouth cancers
- Medical oncologist
- Plastic or reconstructive surgeon
- Radiation oncologist
- Speech, occupational and physical therapist
- Speech pathologist
Oral Care Treatment Options
Which treatment or treatments your dentist and oral cancer treatment team choose for you depends on many factors including the location, size and extent of your cancer as well as certain age and lifestyle factors. These treatments may include:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy