ROCKVILLE, MD, April 4, 2013 — April is Oral Cancer month. Oral cancer kills someon every hour of everyday according to a statement issued by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), making oral cancer an especially lethal condition.
And one worthy of more attention than an awareness month designation.
As it stands, oral cancer’s high lethality rate is mainly due to the lack of screening leaving it undetected until it is too late. This leads to approximately 40% of those diagnosed being dead within five years, rising to 78% mortality rate within five years for Stage IV cancer.
The saddest part of these figures is oral cancer can be prevented by seeing your dentist each year, specifically asking for the screening. Simply, dentists can play the most crucial part in detecting, and ultimately preventing this disease, through a simple screening process during a routine cleaning.
Treatment and recovery improves with early detection and the dentist can play a crucial role in being able to assist the patient in preventing the cancer from progressing when undergoing full treatment or by helping to change a select group of life choices.
Detection and Diagnosis:
Detecting the early stages of oral cancer is as simple as having your doctor or dentist check for the signs inside your oral cavity. Typically, a tiny piece of gauze is used to move the tongue around the mouth while the physician performing the screening checks for signs of precursor tissue changes in the mouth. Other symptoms of oral cancer can include but are not limited to:
Swelling of the tongue or throat.
Any lumps in the mouth or the neck.
Numbness in any region of the mouth.
White or red spots visible on the cheeks, gums, or flesh underneath the tongue.
Signs of advanced stages of oral cancer:
Vocal hoarseness lasting an extended time.
Difficulty and pain when chewing and/or swallowing.
Bleeding sores that do not heal within the oral cavity.
Often these later signs are the signs that motivate a person to be examined by a doctor instead of a dentist, leading to the probable diagnosis of cancer as opposed to early stage detection.
Who is at Risk?:
Oral cancer is found most commonly within men and in the mouths of individuals who are heavy users of alcohol and tobacco. One theory is that alcohol and tobacco, when ingested together, have a synergistic effect on the mouth leading to an almost 15 times greater risk of cancer development.
While oral cancer can develop as a result of generally poor oral maintenance, it is most often solely a result of the ingestion of tobacco. In approximately 80 percent of patients with cancerous cells in their oral cavity, there is the use of tobacco products.
It is believed by many the main reason oral cancer is typically found in those of a higher age is a result of multiple factors. A general decay in the competence of the body’s immune system coupled with aging cells possibly being more apt for malignant transformation are just two of factors.
If a definitive diagnosis has been made and a determination of what stage the cancer is in, a patient may begin their needed treatments. Often this treatment will encompass the care of many different physicians, including oncologists, dentists, surgeons, and rehab/restoration specialists. The typical method of treatment is chemotherapy working in conjunction with radiation treatment and possibly surgery.
While chemotherapy is necessary to kill the cancerous cells of the mouth, it is not a monotherapy treatment for oral cancer as it is for other cancers of the body. As with many other cancer treatments chemotherapy is performed to sensitize the malignant cells.
Radiation treatments lower the size of tumors prior to surgery, and work to stall the cells from undergoing metastasis.
The determination of the stage of the cancer will determine if a patient must undergo surgery, radiation treatment, chemotherapy, or a combination of the three.
It is a cancer, after all.
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