Oral cancer receives considerably less attention than other types of the disease. Despite its low visibility, cancer of the mouth, neck and throat areas affect some 37,000 Americans every year. It is therefore appropriate to dedicate an entire month to remind everyone of this threat. April is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month.
Oral cancer represents less than five percent of the total number of cancer cases in this country. However, the five-year survival rate for the disease is only around 50 percent. One reason for the lower survival rate is that oral cancer is often diagnosed later than the others, when treatment is more difficult and has a lower chance for success. One way to improve the survival rate is through early detection. The first line of defense in dealing with oral cancer can be the family dentist.
Oral cancer normally reveals itself with a small red spot or lesion that can be found anywhere in the mouth, including the tongue, the gum and the cheecks. The symptoms of the disease can include a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal, the formation of a lump or rough spot in the mouth, physical pain or a change of color in the area, or difficulty in chewing, swallowing or speaking. Oral cancer normally affects those over the age of 40. The risk for the disease is increased among those who smoke or chew tobacco or drink alcohol. Poorly fit dentures can also increase the risk, as can exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV). Prolonged exposure to the sun can increase the chance of lip cancer. However, oral cancer can affect anyone, even those who may appear to be at low risk.
Regular dental check ups are important for many reasons, and one of these is the early detection of oral cancer. Dentists are trained to diagnose ailments of the mouth as well as the teeth and gums, and can detect oral cancer at an early stage so it can be treated and stopped. April is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month, but detecting oral cancer should be everyone’s concern all year round.