Oral Cancer. A Look at How it Can Affect Your Life.

Oral cancer is something that is always discussed within the walls of our office. We screen, monitor, and take all preventative measures possible to ensure that our patients stay healthy and don’t become affected by something as serious as oral cancer. Although it’s often a topic of conversation at All in the Family Dental Care, that unfortunately doesn’t mean the rest of the world is aware of the horrible disease. We make sure to send out messages to our patients and encourage sharing that information throughout the month of April, which is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Most people don’t know the symptoms and many people consider oral cancer to be a rare disease. That isn’t quite the case.

Oral Cancer or Mouth Cancers will be newly diagnosed in about 132 new individuals each day in the US alone, and a person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day. – The Oral Cancer Foundation

Similar to lung cancer, many people think that oral cancer is caused by smoking or other toxic oral habits. Again, that isn’t quite the case. Someone close to our office and family was kind enough to share a few words with our patients and followers about how oral cancer changed her life.

“My mother never smoked a day in her life.

Oral Cancer isn’t only caused by smoking. She was 32 when she was first diagnosed, and after 19 years in remission she had to fight it again. My mother underwent surgery to remove most of her palate, and had multiple reconstructive surgeries to help restore her quality of life. Back then there was little if any treatment for oral cancer, and not much knowledge in prevention.

Now, as a mother of 4, I make sure our Dentist knows our health history. I make a conscious effort to take care of my family’s health through annual screenings. The annual screening is easy, the dentist moves your mouth around and feels around your jaw for any abnormalities. He/she then looks through a special scope that takes about a minute.

Prevention is a state of mind. You have to ask, “How can I help myself and what can I do for my health?” You have to be an advocate for your own health! You can create the healthy life you want through education and choosing healthy lifestyle habits. I did that by becoming a health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Educating my children about nutrition and prevention is part of our families culture.

I am so grateful that I can lead a healthy lifestyle because of education in prevention, oral screenings and the support of my dentist. It gives me peace of mind!”

– Theresa

Sometimes it takes hearing an emotional/personal story to understand the real impact that diseases can have on a family. Sometimes it takes a blog post like this to inform you of the basic information you need to know in order to protect yourself and the ones you love. We’re going to include below the symptoms and warning signs of oral cancer, cover what typical treatment looks like, and finally, how you can take preventative actions in your life against the disease.

Causes

Mouth cancers form when cells on the lips or in the mouth develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The mutations changes tell the cells to continue growing and dividing when healthy cells would die. The accumulating abnormal mouth cancer cells can form a tumor. With time they may spread inside the mouth and on to other areas of the head and neck or other parts of the body.

Mouth cancers most commonly begin in the flat, thin cells (squamous cells) that line your lips and the inside of your mouth. Most oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.

It’s not clear what causes the mutations in squamous cells that lead to mouth cancer. But doctors have identified factors that may increase the risk of mouth cancer.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Currently, the most effective way to control oral cancer is to combine an early diagnosis followed by a timely and appropriate treatment. The vast majority of oral cancers will be diagnosed from identifying lesions or sores within the mouth.

Early Signs

  • Persistent red and/or white patch non-healing ulcer
  • Progressive swelling or enlargement Unusual surface changes
  • Sudden tooth mobility without apparent cause
  • Unusual oral bleeding or epistaxis Prolonged hoarseness

Late Signs

  • Hard surface areas within the mouth
  • Airway obstruction
  • Nerve damage that causes tingling or a pricking sensation in the tongue, cheeks or lips
  • Chronic earaches
  • Lockjaw, or limited range in jaw movement/opening
  • Pain and swelling in the lymph nodes
  • Altered vision

Potential Treatments

Once a diagnosis has been made and the cancer has been staged, treatment will usually begin very quickly after. Oral cancer treatment can be very complex involving the efforts of surgeons, radiation oncologists, chemotherapy oncologists, dental practitioners, nutritionists, and rehabilitation and restorative specialists. The actual treatment is usually made up of surgery and radiation, with chemotherapy added to decrease the possibility of the cancer spreading to new locations.

Prevention

A very common assumption is that oral and mouth cancers are caused by excessive smoking and drinking. While both of those can be major contributing factors, that isn’t always the case. 1 in 4 cases have no risk factors at all. There are many ways that you can be proactive in avoiding oral cancer. All of them involve taking care of yourself and putting your health first. Examples of ways you can prevent oral cancer are:

  • See your dentist at least twice a year for general cleanings as well as oral cancer screenings. The screenings are quick and painless.
  • Avoid tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, and vaping
  • Avoid drinking alcohol in excess
  • Avoid excess sun exposure to your lips
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is a major part of staying healthy.
  • Keep an active lifestyle