Each year in the United States, more than 35,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed. About 7,500 patients die from the disease every year. Your dentist checks for oral cancer every time you visit. Oral cancers that are found early off¬er a better chance for successful treatment — making oral cancer screenings one more reason why you should see your dentist regularly.
Oral Cancer: Early Detection Can Save Your Life
Visiting your dentist regularly for an oral cancer screening can help detect oral cancer in its earliest stages. Screening for early changes in your mouth, as well as your face and neck, can help detect cancer at a stage when it can be more successfully treated. During a dental examination, your dentist will check your face, neck and mouth for lumps, red or white patches, or recurring sore areas.
What Are the Signs?
Checking your mouth each day when you brush and floss can help identify cancer in its earliest stages when it can be more successfully treated. If there are any changes in your mouth, or if you notice any of these signs or symptoms, contact your dentist:
- a persistent sore or irritation
- red or white patches
- pain, tenderness, or numbness in mouth or lips
- a lump, thickening, rough spot, crust, or small eroded area
- difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue
- a change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
Am I at Risk for Cancer?
Anyone can get oral cancer. However, it occurs most often in people who smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes and drink heavily (30 drinks or more per week). That combination is estimated to cause the majority of oral cancers diagnosed in the United States. People who often spend long periods of time in the sun are also at higher risk for lip cancer. Another risk factor is the use of smokeless tobacco products. In addition, infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause cancer in certain parts of the oral cavity.
How Can I Lower My Risk for Oral Cancer?
- As part of your oral hygiene routine, watch for changes in the soft tissues of your mouth.
- Avoid all tobacco products.
- Avoid heavy alcohol use.
- Visit your dentist for regular oral cancer screenings that may save your life!