Every time we provide care, we’re observing many different aspects of your overall health. Most people are surprised at the large amount of surface area that lines the mouth. While this lining repairs itself quickly, it is susceptible to changes that may require monitoring or further evaluation. Oral cancer screening allows us to keep an eye on alarming changes and detect cancer early so that it can be treated safely.
Oral Cancer Symptoms
Oral cancer doesn’t necessarily show any symptoms, but you should report unusual symptoms you experience in your mouth or throat, such as:
- Sores, lumps, or changes in shape or texture
- Red or white lesions on gums, lips, or tongue
- Swelling in your mouth that interferes with tongue, teeth or restorations
- Numbness or pain in your mouth
- Ear symptoms like pain or pulsatile tinnitus
- Loose teeth
- Sore throat or hoarseness that lingers
- Feeling of obstruction in the throat
Oral Cancer Risk
Oral cancer can afflict anyone although tobacco users put themselves at significantly higher risk than non-users. Chewing tobacco contains up to 3000 different chemicals, including the same compounds used in pesticides and embalming fluid. Cigarette smoke contains similar compounds as well as the products of combusting them. Direct contact with gum tissue and prolonged exposure make chewing tobacco the highest risk factor.
In addition, alcohol use can increase your risk of oral cancers. In the past, only excessive alcohol consumption was considered a risk factor, but more recent research suggests any level of alcohol use can increase cancer risk.
Compromised immune system, gum disease, previous cancers, and HPV infection are other oral cancer risks.
However, one of the alarming things about recent cancer trends is that many new cases are among people who don’t have cancer risk factors.
Benefits of Early Detection
Cellular changes below the surface aren’t always detectable until they’ve advanced to a critical stage.
However, early detection and treatment of oral cancer significantly increase the chance of a positive outcome. The American Cancer Society reports that about 7,000 deaths result from oral cancer out of 30,000 cases diagnosed annually. If we suspect any unusual changes in your mouth tissue, we may suggest a biopsy and microscopic analysis by a qualified lab.
Early detection dramatically increases a person’s chance of survival. When cancer is detected early, the survival rate is about 83%. Late detected oral cancers have a survival rate of 50%.
Many other non-cancerous changes can occur in your mouth’s tissue, from oral warts to autoimmune lesions. Dr. Chris Hill draws on his background in oral pathology to determine if any abnormalities should be removed or simply monitored.
As a side note, we understand tobacco holds powerful addictive powers over many health-conscious people. If you’re determined to quit, we want to be a supportive partner in your efforts. Talk to your hygienist or Dr. Chris Hill by calling (314) 678-7876 (Downtown St. Louis) or (314) 375-5353 (Clayton, MO) or email us about strategies and resources for kicking the habit.