According to the American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates, in the United States alone, about 53 thousand people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer, and an estimate 11 thousand will die. Although oral cancer isn’t as widespread as breast cancer, it can be deadly if not caught early enough. That’s why the best protection you can give yourself against oral cancer is knowledge. Knowing the symptoms can help you to catch the disease earlier before it can spread beyond the mouth.
What Is Oral Cancer?
The term “oral cancer” refers to several different types of cancer located in the oral cavity. The most common type of oral cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which generally occurs on the tongue. However, other forms of cancer can also occur on the lips, gums, soft palate, cheeks, or floor of the mouth. Oral cancer can also take hold in the throat or sinus cavity.
Just like other forms of cancer which occur elsewhere in the body, oral cancer can be deadly if not caught in time. Nearly 3% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States are oral cancers, and they make up a little over 1.5% of all cancer deaths — which is nearly 10,000 deaths per year or one per hour.
The good news is that oral cancer caught early has a very high recovery rate. 81 percent survive tongue cancer 5 years or more if caught in the local stages, and 91 percent survive several forms of lip cancer. That’s why recognizing the symptoms of oral cancer can very literally save your life. Keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Pain, soreness, or numbness in the mouth, tongue, or throat
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- White or red lesions in the mouth
- Sores, lumps, or swollen areas in the mouth or throat
- Loose teeth
Although it’s hard to predict who will and will not develop cancer in their lifetime, there are several lifestyle factors that can significantly increase your risk of oral cancer. Chewing tobacco or smoking seems to be the habit most directly responsible for high oral cancer risk: nearly 90% of those diagnosed with oral cancer consume tobacco in some form, be that cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or chewing tobacco. Alcohol can also increase risk even further.
Your Dentist Can Help!
The American Dental Association suggest visiting your dentist once every six months for a check-up and cleaning. This is to reduce your risk of gum disease, treat oral complications that are present, and also to perform an oral cancer screening. A dentist is well equipped to check for lesions or sores while you’re in the dentist’s chair.
If it’s been awhile since your last appointment, consider scheduling one now. Take steps to protect your mouth and body!