Happy April! The month of April is also known as oral cancer awareness month. One person dies every hour of every day from oral cancer. There will be 132 new individuals newly diagnosed each day in the U.S. alone.
What causes oral cancer?
There are three different categories that attribute to oral cancer. The most common way people get oral cancer is abusing alcohol and tobacco use. The second leading cause is the human papilloma virus strain 16. There are over 200 strains of human papilloma virus and strains 16 and 18 can lead to oral cancer. So you could not be using alcohol and tobacco on a regular basis and still are at risk for getting oral cancer due to HPV. The third cause is just no identified cause. It could be due to family history/genetics.
What to look for
Doing a self-evaluation can help catch oral cancer. Everyone’s mouths may differ a little but big things to look for is color, texture and symmetry. You will also want to check your lymph nodes in your neck. You can feel this with your hands and should not be painful and able to move them. There is a good video on http://checkyourmouth.org/wp/ that can show you how to go through doing a self-exam. They recommend doing an exam once a month and it takes 5-10 minutes.
When you come to Fall Creek Dental, we always do a hands on oral cancer screening. We also have cancer detecting technology called a VELscope. The VELscope uses natural tissue fluorescence to enhance the way clinicians visualize oral mucosal abnormalities that might not be apparent or even visible to the naked eye. We recommend having a VELscope oral cancer exam done once a year. For the month of April we are donating $10 for the oral cancer foundation for every VELscope exam done.
What if I find something?
Document the date it was found and description of how it looks. Remember if you find something different, persistence is key to deciding it is worthy of further examination or not. If something does not resolve within 14 days, self-refer to your dental or medical professional. Most things we find will not be cancer. However when it comes to those things like cancer that are dangerous, earlier discovery makes a big difference. Better to be safe than sorry. If the dentist finds the lesion needs to be investigated further you will be referred to the oral surgeons.
Most treatment options are radiation with surgery. Depending on the case sometimes chemotherapy is needed as well. The survival rate is 80-90% if oral cancer is found early enough. Clinical trials may help with new treatment options for oral cancer as well. There are many different support groups you can join as well to help emotionally.
While the beginning of April maybe filled with jokes, oral cancer is not. You are your biggest advocate for your oral health.