Lips are for kissing, the tongue for savoring cuisine and the mouth for swishing and sipping the best wine. Our mouths bring us so much pleasure and it is our responsibility to protect them. This protection should include yearly screenings for oral cancer. Carcinoma can strike any part of the oral cavity, including the jaw, tongue, lip, cheek, floor of the mouth, throat or salivary glands.
Symptoms of carcinoma can often be confused with something else, so it is important to ensure that you receive an annual screening. Some common symptoms of carcinoma that look like everyday problems are jaw pains, a lump on the roof of the mouth, a mouth sore, white patches on the tongue and trouble swallowing. These symptoms can often be dismissed as something minor and transient, however, rather than waiting with fingers crossed for symptoms to clear up or worrying if a symptom is or is not a sign of cancer, it’s best to schedule an appointment with Dr. Ike for an annual screening. While some dentists might inspect for disease during regular teeth cleanings, a scheduled screening is necessary to ensure a thorough examination.
Just like we have become accustomed to having mammograms and colonoscopies, we need to make oral cancer screenings as routine as our annual physicals. An oral cancer screening is not a painful process. It consists of using mirrors, special lights and oral rinses to observe spots and other asymmetry in the mouth. The lights will show a contrast between healthy and unhealthy cells, making normal tissue appear dark and abnormal tissue appear white. The rinses contain a dye that will highlight unusual cell growth. In addition to visual scans, Dr. Ike will use physical touch and exploration of your mouth tissues to feel for tumors. If something of concern is found, it will be monitored over several visits and additional testing can be done before making a final diagnosis.
Here are three important reasons to get screened early:
Screenings can reduce worries if you are at high-risk for oral cancer.
Anyone can get carcinoma of the oral cavity, but some populations are at greater risk than others. It’s not just tobacco smokers and chewers, either – although they run the risk of getting lip, cheek and gum cancer. Just being over 40 years of age can be a risk factor. Also, if you like drinking wine, liquor and other spirits and do it on a regular basis, you might be at a higher risk. If you sunbathe a lot, you increase your chances of lip lesions. Those with high junk food diets who get fewer nutrients and those who have been diagnosed with HPV can also face higher risk of getting cancer of the oral cavity. Anyone in these categories should make annual screenings routine.
Find precancerous cells before they turn into a malignancy.
If you have no telltale symptoms of mouth cancer, such as mouth pain or sores, that doesn’t mean abnormal cancer cells aren’t forming. Many patients miss signs of cancer and need a professional to spot the cancer so that it won’t grow while remaining undetected.
A screening can detect cancer before any symptoms manifest, which is why it’s important to get checked rather than wait for signs. One test will not do. By having screenings yearly, the dentist can track changes to your oral tissues with multiple tests and discern abnormal cells more accurately. In some cases, a biopsy may need to be performed to determine if a lump or lesion is cancerous or noncancerous.
Ninety-percent of oral cancers are a result of squamous cells in the throat and mouth mutating and becoming abnormal. This is a fast-developing cancer. Five-percent of oral cancers are the verrucous carcinoma type, which develops slowly and rarely spreads.
Increase your chance of being cured by starting treatment early.
Those diagnosed with oral carcinoma have an 80 percent to 90 percent chance of survival – if caught early. Cancer is easiest to remove and cure in its initial stages.
If cancer is diagnosed, doctors will be able to identify which stage it’s in. First, doctors will look for tumors. They will measure the size of the tumor and note its location. Second, doctors will assess if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Lastly, doctors will check for metastasis, which means the malignancy has spread to other organs. Doctors will identify just how far the cancer has expanded.
Cures and Treatments
There are many cures and treatments available for anyone diagnosed with oral cancer. Dr. Ike can refer you to an oncologist who can discuss treatments in detail. The most common treatments are chemotherapy and radiation. However, surgery is also an option, not only to remove tumors but also to reconstruct the mouth cavity if treatment destroys tongue tissue, the jawbone or other mouth areas too severely.
Some doctors use immunotherapy, during which drugs are employed to boost the body’s own immune system so that it can destroy the cancer. Targeted drug therapy may be used to stop the cancer cells from multiplying.
Ignoring signs and symptoms of oral cancer can have a deleterious effect on your quality of life. Cancer of the mouth can affect the ears, nose and throat, causing problems with hearing, problems with speech, reduced ability to chew, loosened teeth and the presence of bad breath. Some sufferers endure fatigue, tongue numbness and weight loss due to oral cancer. That’s why detecting it in the early stages is crucial.
If you are ready to schedule an oral cancer screenings, contact our office to schedule an appointment by filling out the form on our website. Design Dentistry Columbia also offers other preventative dental services, such as periodontal screenings.