Oral Cancer

Oral Cancer

See your dentist if you have a growth or sore on your lips or in your mouth a sign that you may have oral cancer. Abnormal cells cause cancer to the form in the lining of our mouth, called the oral cavity, which include the lips and cheeks, our teeth and gums, a portion of our tongue, the floor and roof of our mouth and an area behind our wisdom teeth. When caught early, oral cancer is highly curable, with a 5-year survival rate up to 100%. Cancerous tumors or growths can be removed by surgery or radiation therapy. Ask your dentist for an oral exam every 3 years, starting at age 20, then annually after age 40. Dentists can look for any pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions in your mouth. Men are more likely to develop oral cancer, making it the 6th most common cancer among men. Smoking tobacco products and drinking alcohol in excess also increases your risk, although about a quarter of all oral cancers aren't linked to these risk factors.

Recently Answered

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    Oral cancer can only be diagnosed with a biopsy, when a sample of tissue in the area is removed and examined under a microscope. However, your dentist can identify suspicious-looking areas or growths that may need further evaluation. If your dentist notices anything unusual during your examination, he or she might reexamine you in one or two weeks because it is possible that the questionable spot might heal during that time. Your dentist may also refer you to another dentist or a physician for a second opinion.
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    Your dentist will not be able to diagnose cancer during an examination. Oral cancer can be diagnosed only with a biopsy, when a sample of tissue in the area is removed and examined under a microscope. However, your dentist can identify suspicious-looking areas or growths that may need further evaluation.
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    Checking for signs of oral cancer is part of a regular dental checkup. Your dentist can examine your oral tissues easily by looking at your lips and inside your mouth. He or she will check your gums carefully, the inside of your cheeks and your tongue (the sides and underneath). Also, the dentist will look at the roof and floor of your mouth.
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    ADA - Know Your Dental Team – Dental Hygienist

    Dental hygienists perform a number of important roles in the dental office. Watch as Dr. Maria Lopez Howell explains what a dental hygienist is trained to do.


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    There are some symptoms of oral cancer that you can check for:

    • sores that bleed easily or do not heal
    • a thick or hard spot or lump
    • a roughened or crusted area
    • numbness, pain or tenderness
    • a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down

    During your dental visit, your dentist can talk to you about your health history and examine these areas for signs of mouth and/or throat cancer. Regular visits to your dentist can improve the chances that any suspicious changes in your oral health will be caught early, at a time when cancer can be treated more easily.

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    It is now easier than ever to detect oral cancer early, when the opportunity for a cure is great. Only half of all patients diagnosed with oral cancer survive more than five years. Your dentist has the skills and tools to ensure that early signs of cancer and pre-cancerous conditions are identified. You and your dentist can fight and win the battle against oral cancer.
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    These treatments can potentially cause suppression of the immune system or cause mutations in genes that may increase a risk for recurrence or new cancers. Fortunately, this risk is low.

    The risk for bacterial and fungal infections is greater and fairly common. A most common risk is inflammation and ulceration (termed mucositis) that is associated with pain and often prevents adequate nutrient intake and weight loss. Lack of saliva and altered taste occurs to varying degrees, and can increase the risk for cavities and gingivitis.
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    ADe Vizio, DMD, Dentist, answered on behalf of Colgate
    Each year, about 35,000 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer in the United States. Mouth cancer kills about 8,000 people each year. African-Americans are more likely than Caucasians to get mouth cancer, and their death rate from it is almost twice as high.
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    ADe Vizio, DMD, Dentist, answered on behalf of Colgate
    There are no alternative treatments for oral cancer, or mouth cancer, that can be considered possible cures. Instead, traditional medical treatments, including radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery, are most effective in treating oral cancer.

    Alternative therapies, however, may help with a common side effect of oral cancer treatment: exhaustion. Options include meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques; acupuncture; or massage therapy.
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    Your risk of developing oral cancer is much higher if you use tobacco and also drink heavily. Avoid all tobacco products. Visit your dentist for regular oral cancer screenings that may save your life!
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