WHO NEEDS AN ORAL CANCER SCREENING? EVERYONE!
When you see your dentist in Monaca, PA you're probably more concerned about them finding cavities than cancer. However, during an annual dental examination, one of the things your dentist is looking for are oral cancer. Oral cancer includes malignant or abnormal cells in the lips, gums, tongue, soft tissues in the mouth, as well as the salivary glands, tonsils, throat, and esophagus. In this blog by our team at DentalWorks - Beaver Valley, we review the most common signs of oral cancer, what can put you at greater risk of getting oral cancer, how your dentist looks for signs of cancer, and finally, treatment options.
ORAL CANCER SYMPTOMS
Signs of oral cancer may not be visible or painful, so it is important to get regular oral cancer checks by your dentist in Monaca, PA. Some of the symptoms of oral cancers that your dentist will look for are:
- RED OR WHITE AREAS
One symptom of oral cancer is red or white patches inside the mouth, especially on the gums or tongue. These areas often have a velvety texture.
- PERSISTENT SORES
Persistent sores that develop on the lips or inside the mouth that don't heal within two weeks are a symptom of oral cancer. These sores may bleed easily so it is very important to have them checked and treated.
- CHRONIC SORE THROAT
Cancer in your esophagus or throat may cause a persistent sore throat (unrelated to a cold or other illness) or a feeling that something is stuck in the back of your throat. You might also notice a change in the overall sound or pitch of your voice.
- DIFFICULTY MOVING YOUR MOUTH
A tumor or lump in your mouth or jaw may make it difficult to chew, speak, or swallow. You might also feel soreness or pain when you close or open your jaw.
- INFLAMMATION AND GROWTHS
Oral cancer can cause lumps and swelling in your mouth and throat. During an oral cancer screening, your dentist will feel for bulges in your neck and swelling near your jawline.
ORAL CANCER RISK FACTORS
Anyone can get oral cancer, but there are certain factors that could make a person more likely to get cancerous cells in their lips, mouth, and throat.
- CHEWING TOBACCO
Even though chewing or smokeless tobacco is better for the health of your family and friends, snuff or dip still puts you at higher risk for oral cancer. Having the tobacco directly in your mouth raises your chance of getting cheek, gum, and lip cancer, in particular.
Smoking tobacco in any form (e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes, cigars, and others) increases your risk of getting oral cancer. In addition, people who live with you or spend a whole lot of time around you are at higher risk of also getting oral cancer through second-hand smoke.
Heavy drinkers (regularly having over 20 alcoholic drinks each week) are at higher risk of developing oral cancer. Drinking as well as using tobacco dramatically increases your risk of developing oral cancer.
Also linked to cervical cancer, a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV) is now linked to oral cancer. HPV 16, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), increases your risk of developing oropharyngeal cancers in the throat, tonsils, and back of the mouth.
While the majority of your mouth is safe from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays, your lips are not. Regular, unprotected exposure to the sun and other sources of UV light (for example, tanning beds) can cause skin cancer in the lips. To avoid skin cancer, wear sun protection (like sunscreen and hats). Use lip balms that contain SPF 15 to protect your lips from burning.
ORAL CANCER SCREENING
A critical portion of a dental examination is the oral cancer screening. At DentalWorks - Beaver Valley, our dental professionals perform an oral cancer screening on each of our Monaca, PA patients during their exam. During this portion of the exam, your dentist will perform a visual and physical inspection of your mouth and throat to look for symptoms of oral cancer. After putting on a fresh pair of gloves, your dentist will start by checking areas inside your mouth (under your tongue, the back of your throat, your cheek lining) to look for unusual growths or spots. They will also palpate (feel) your chin, jaw, and throat to check for lumps and swelling. Though a visual and physical exam performed correctly is usually enough to detect abnormalities, some dental practices also use oral cancer detection devices, like a blue light or mouth rinse. If your dentist is concerned, they will generally suggest you visit an oncologist.
ORAL CANCER TREATMENT OPTIONS
Should your dentist finds signs of oral cancer, they will refer you to another doctor. To confirm oral cancer, the doctor will most likely perform a biopsy that examines a small number of cells from your mouth to look for abnormal cells. If you have oral cancer, your physician will explain your treatment options and help you develop your treatment plan.
Oral surgery may be used to remove as much of the cancerous area as possible. Depending on the location of your oral cancer, this could be a simple outpatient procedure or a longer surgery. Surgery is usually followed by radiation or chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Radiotherapy uses localized x-rays, gamma rays, electron beam, or protons to stop cancer cells from multiplying. The radiation will be aimed at the region affected by cancer, which limits side effects to the rest of your body.
A group of strong drugs, chemotherapy can be utilized to slow the growth of cancer or destroy the cancer cells. Depending on the kind of chemotherapy medication used, you may experience different side effects during your treatment cycle.
GET SCREENED FOR ORAL CANCER
Make sure you're going to a dentist in Monaca, PA at least once a year for a dental examination that includes an oral cancer screening. At DentalWorks - Beaver Valley our team checks every patient for signs of oral cancer during their visits. Early diagnosis and treatment can dramatically increase a patient's survival rate so make sure you and your family are scheduling regular appointments for oral cancer screenings at a dental practice in Monaca, PA.