Posts for tag: oral cancer
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Cancer is never a pleasant topic. Yet, rather than wish it away, many people have chosen to take an active and positive role in the prevention and early detection of the disease. Did you know that you and your dentist, working together, can help identify a major class of cancers in the early stages? Let's spend a few moments discussing oral cancer.
Oral cancer is dangerous. Although it accounts for a relatively small percentage of all cancers, it isn't usually detected until it has reached a late stage. And at that point, the odds aren't great: only 58% survive 5 years after treatment, a rate far less than that of many better-known cancers. It is estimated that in the United States, this disease kills one person every hour, every day.
Oral cancer used to be thought of as an older person's disease — and it still primarily strikes those over 40 years of age. But a disturbing number of young people have been diagnosed with the illness in recent years, making them the fastest-growing segment among oral cancer patients. This is due to the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV16). So, while long-time tobacco users and heavy drinkers still need screenings, most young people do too.
What's the good news? When it's detected early, the survival rate of oral cancer goes up to 80% or better. And having an oral cancer screening is part of doing something you should be doing anyway — getting regular dental checkups. That's one more reason why coming in to our office regularly for your routine examination is so important.
Of course, if you notice any abnormal sores or color changes in the tissue around your mouth, lips, tongue or throat — especially if they don't go away in 2-3 weeks — come in and see us right away. They could be just cold sores — or not.
An oral cancer exam is fast and painless. It involves a visual inspection of the mouth and surrounding area (face, lips, throat, etc.), during which we may also feel for lumps. We'll also gently pull your tongue from side to side, and check underneath it for early signs of a problem. If needed, we can schedule a biopsy for any suspicious areas. Sound easy? It is! So don't ignore it — remember that early detection could save your life.
No one wants to hear the word “cancer.” But thanks to advances in detection and treatment, the disease increasingly can be stopped in its earliest stages when it's most treatable and outcomes are most favorable. Oral cancer accounts for a relatively small 3% of cancers in men and 2% in women, but early detection rates are lagging. Our office screens for oral cancer as part of your regular checkups. Knowing some of the signs and symptoms can help you monitor as well.
The main areas where oral carcinomas (cancers) occur are:
- the tongue (most common location, particularly the sides and on the floor of the mouth),
- the lip (especially the lower one),
- the oral cavity (the mouth), and
- the pharynx (back of mouth and throat).
Most oral cancers are preceded by surface changes (lesions) of the oral membranes. In the “precancerous” stage, white or red patches start forming and a non-healing ulcer may appear. The most common locations on the tongue for this to occur are on the sides and underneath on the floor of the mouth. Lip cancers typically develop on the lower lip, usually in people with a history of sun exposure. There has often been prior damage at the site such as scaling and crusting.
Be aware that oral cancers can be mistaken for cold and canker sores, ulcers, minor infections, and even irritations caused by biting or certain types of food. If lesions don't heal within two or three weeks, there's a higher likelihood that they are cancerous.
An in-office examination includes the following:
- visual inspection of face, lips, neck and mouth;
- inspection of sides and underneath of tongue and floor of mouth using gauze to gently manipulate the tongue;
- palpation of the floor of the mouth, sides of neck and glands to detect unusual lumps; and
- an “open wide and say ‘Aah’” examination of the back of your throat.
There are some risk factors for oral cancer that can't be controlled, such as a family history, age and race. But awareness, monitoring for potential signs and seeking prompt attention are always key ingredients in protecting your oral health!
If you would like more information about oral cancer detection, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
When it comes to your oral healthcare, we strive to provide state-of-the-art care along with education to both our patients and community. One way we do this is by taking a moment to answer some of the questions we are most often asked about a certain topic. And one topic that almost always ignites questions is the subject of lumps and bumps in the mouth.
Help! I just found a small lump in my mouth — what should I do?
Not to alarm you, but your first priority is to contact us as soon as possible to schedule an appointment so that we can review it. Most often, we will know what it is by taking a history, knowing how long it's been there and what it looks like. Depending on what we find, we may want to take a biopsy so that we can determine exactly what it is and how we need to treat it.
What is involved in having a biopsy performed?
A biopsy is a normal and routine procedure that is used to definitively diagnose and confirm exactly what the abnormal lump, bump or other tissue is. It is typically performed with local anesthesia so that a small tissue sample can be removed without any pain for examination under a microscope. Depending on the size of the wound, it may require two to three sutures (stitches), leaving a flat and flush surface that heals in a few days to a week. The procedure usually lasts between 10 and 15 minutes with the lab results processed within a few days.
Does this mean I have cancer?
No, the chances are slim that you actually have cancer. However any change or sore in the mouth that does not heal in a week or two should be evaluated by a dentist and if necessary biopsied. If it is pre-cancerous and removed, it could save your life. The most important fact you need to remember is that no one can tell for sure what the abnormal tissue growth is until an expert in oral pathology (“patho” – disease; “ology” – study of) examines it under a microscope. While it is human nature to be concerned, until you have the facts, you are suffering needlessly.
To learn more about this topic, continue reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Common Lumps and Bumps In The Mouth.” Or you can contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your specific questions so that we can put your mind at ease.
Let's talk about oral cancer. Yes, it's a scary subject — but the truth is, the more you know about it, the better able you are to protect yourself.
- Who is more likely to get oral cancer? Because of your genetic disposition — heredity — men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer as women. African-Americans have a higher incidence than Caucasians. The disease is also related to aging, although in recent years many young people have been diagnosed with this disease.
- Are some habits related to development of oral cancer? Risk factors include use of tobacco in any form, both smoking and chewing, chronic exposure to sun, and consumption of alcohol. Moderate to heavy drinkers have a three to nine times greater risk than non-drinkers. Tobacco smokers are at five to nine times greater risk than non-users, and users of snuff or chewing tobacco are at four times greater risk than non-users.
- Where do most oral cancers occur? The most common areas are in the mouth itself, the lips, the tongue, and the pharynx (back of the mouth and throat).
- What are the statistics for survival after treatment for oral cancer? Conquering cancer depends most on early detection. Since most cases of oral cancer are discovered at a late stage, survival is poor, with less than 60% surviving five years after treatment. When oral cancers are detected early, the survival rate is more than 80%.
- What are some of the symptoms of oral cancer? Most oral cancers are “squamous” (small scale-shaped) cell carcinomas in the lining of the mouth. Signs of these cancers can be seen as white or red patches in the early pre-cancerous stage. These develop into an ulcer that does not heal.
- When should you seek medical help? If you notice color changes (white or red patches) or sores or ulcers anywhere in your mouth that do not heal within two or three weeks, go to your dentist for a checkup right away. Sometimes the sores resemble cold sores. A definitive diagnosis requires a tissue biopsy, in which a small piece of tissue is removed under anesthesia and taken to a lab for microscopic examination.
- What about regular routine examinations? An oral cancer examination should be part of your visit to our office. We will inspect your face, neck, lips and mouth for signs of cancer, feel the floor of the mouth and sides of the neck for any lumps, examine your tongue and the back of your throat. The American Cancer Society recommends a cancer related check-up annually for all individuals aged 40 and older and every three years for those between 20 and 29.