What you need to know about Oral Cancer

by Dr. Rashmi Shankar, D.D.S.

Oral Cancer affects 35,000 Americans every year. Early detection of malignant lesions can result in a much more favorable outcome. Patients in coordination with their health care provider can aid early detection by scheduling regular visits with their dental health care professional; and reduce their cancer risk by taking steps to limit negative risk factors, and adopting a healthier lifestyle.

It is very important to have your dental health care provider examine the oral cavity once every 6 months. Cancerous lesions can grow rapidly and once they spread to other areas of the body the 5-year survival rate of patients significantly drops.  Most oral cancers are commonly found on the lip, side of the tongue, and floor of the mouth. Patients should take it upon themselves to inform their health care provider of any physical changes, such as mouth sores, color change in tissue, lumps, and rough spots. Seemingly unrelated symptoms that still need to be reported include pain, numbness, tenderness, weight loss, a sore throat, and a change in your bite.  Advise your dentist of such symptoms so that he/she can assess the cause for the symptom.  If your healthcare provider cannot determine a cause for the lesion, then a biopsy will be necessary to diagnose whether or not the lesion is cancerous.

In addition to regular check-ups and self-examinations patients should also limit negative risk factors. Among the most common risk factors for oral cancer are poor oral hygiene, excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco use, chewing betel nut, and a poor diet.

Adopting a healthier lifestyle has also been proven to reduce the number of cancer related deaths. It is very important to maintain a healthy weight, eat more fruits and vegetables, limit both red meat and processed meats, and limit alcohol consumption.

Twenty five percent of patients with oral cancer will die from the disease. In order to reduce the incidence and death from cancer it is important for patients to schedule regular dental check-ups, report any suspicious lesions, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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