How often do you use your mouth in a day? How often do you eat, drink, or speak? How often do you smile? These sound like silly questions, right? But we often underestimate and undervalue the importance of our mouths and oral care. This is probably why oral cancer is often overlooked until it is, unfortunately, too late. This April, dentists across the country are spreading awareness to keep our nation’s mouths cancer free. Oral cavity cancer (oral cancer, for short) is a cancer that starts in the mouth while oropharyngeal cancer begins in the soft part behind the roof of your mouth and includes your tonsils and throat.
According to the American Cancer Society, over 53,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in 2019—1 in 5 of these cases will be fatal. The death rate has generally been decreasing over the past 30 years, but there is still a long way to go before we have it beat. The reason these two cancers have such a high mortality rate is that they are often discovered too late in their development. That is why recognizing the causes and detection methods are so important!
CAUSES OF ORAL CANCER While scientists are still researching the exact cause, they have pinpointed several lifestyle actions that significantly increase oral cancer risk. Both tobacco and alcohol use skyrocket the chances of tumors developing in your mouth. Tobacco directly damages the DNA in your cells, causing them to be malformed when they reproduce. Alcohol, on the other hand, does not directly damage DNA but instead helps damaging chemicals (like those in tobacco) to access cell DNA more easily. Doctors have also discovered that human papillomavirus (HPV) produces proteins that cause abnormalities in cell growth. For that reason, oral HPV infection is understood to be a third contributor to oral cancer after tobacco and alcohol.
DETECTION Like with any illness, early detection of oral and oropharyngeal cancer is critical. The two most common symptoms you may notice is a mouth sore that does not heal for at least two weeks or persistent mouth pain. Some other things you may notice are trouble chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw and tongue. Lastly, as with most cancers, a lump forming in your mouth or throat is another possible sign. While these are some of the more common symptoms, a complete list can be found on the American Cancer Society site. If you show any of these symptoms for longer than two weeks, you should get screened. Our smiles are important. It’s how we make friends, strike impressions, and communicate feelings. Our mouth is what lets us eat, breathe, and live. With proper knowledge and early detection, we can go from 1 in 5 cases of oral cancer being fatal to zero. Contact Refuah Family Dental today to schedule your oral cancer screening.