Oral Cancer Screenings Key for Early Detection
Early Detection is Saving Lives
“Early detection made all the difference”1– Dr. Faulkner, an ENT surgeon, commenting on a handful of celebrities that have been diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Famous actors and singers such as Rod Stewart, Michael Douglas, and Sean Connery have all suffered from some type of head and neck cancer. Doctors attribute the cause to heavy smoking and drinking. Michael Douglas even come out and very honestly opened up a conversation about the link between HPV and Oral Cancer.2
The incidence of oral malignancy related to HPV is increasing every year. Moral of the story? Get checked! Family medicine physicians are doing an amazing job of evaluating risk factors. Your dentist is also a great resource! April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and we are here to give you the scoop.3
What is oral cancer?
Oral cancer can present in the mouth and in the throat. There are these specific types of cells called squamous cells that can cover the mouth, throat and lips. These cells can form patches and turn into sores that won’t heal.4 Oral cancer can also cause abnormal bleeding in the mouth, loose teeth, pain or difficulty swallowing, lump in the neck, or numbness in your lower chin or teeth to name a few.
How does oral cancer happen?
There is a strong link between smoking and drinking alcohol to oral cancer. Tobacco is the most common cause.5 Heavy alcohol consumption is an important risk factor as well. The good news? These are two causes that can be controlled. When you reduce your tobacco use and alcohol consumption, you immediately reduce your risk for oral cancer.
Are there any other major risk factors?
In the ’50s and ’60s, a link was found between Human papilloma-virus (HPV) and cervical cancer. Further research showed that a viral infection of this kind could be a trigger for this specific cancer. As more types of HPV were discovered, they found that HPV-16 and HPV-18 were linked to oral cancer.6 The number of cases is increasing rapidly so physicians and dentists alike are working towards both prevention as well as early detection. Fortunately, there is a vaccine called Gardasil that will prevent this infection. Most family physicians and gynecologists are recommending this vaccine for young adults. Also, completing safe-sex practices can assist with decreasing the risk of developing HPV, and thus, certain oral cancers.
Visiting the dentist at least twice a year has many benefits. Your teeth feel clean and you walk away with freebies like a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss! The other major benefit is that you have at least two people, the hygienist and the dentist, looking closely at the tissue in your mouth. By keeping current with your dental care, your risk factors are addressed and a physical examination is completed. Aside from the visual exam, there is a new technology called VELscope.7 It aids in diagnosing any areas of concern. Bacterial infections, inflammation, pre-cancerous and cancerous cells can all be detected using fluorescence technology.
It is very important to keep up with your annual physicals with your physician as well as your twice-a-year dental visits! Managing your risk factors and helping maintain a healthy lifestyle can decrease your chances of developing oral cancer. If you find yourself in an at-risk category, make sure you have open and honest communication with your health care providers. Awareness and early detection are key!