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What is oral cancer?

Cancer is the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells that invade the surrounding tissue and cause damage.  Oral cancer can occur in the tongue, lips, floor of the mouth, cheeks, sinuses, hard and soft palate, and throat.  Like other cancers, oral cancer can be life-threatening if not detected and treated early.  And this leads to a sobering fact: the death rate associated with oral cancer is higher than many other cancers not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but because the early signs of oral cancer can be overlooked allowing the cancer to grow and spread before it is detected.


What are the signs of oral cancer?

Detecting tissue changes is crucial to discovering and treating oral cancer early.  Doing a monthly self exam is important for two reasons: 1. Over time you get to know what your “normal” is, and 2. you’ll likely detect anything out of the ordinary sooner rather than later.  And that is VITALLY important!

Your self exam should include looking and feeling for the following:

  • Lumps, sores, or swellings in or around your throat or mouth
  • The feeling that there is a lump or object stuck in your throat
  • Swelling that makes wearing dentures or a removable bridge uncomfortable
  • Pain in the ears
  • Tenderness, pain, or numbness in the mouth or tongue
  • Loose teeth without an explanation
  • Trouble moving your tongue or jaw
  • Issues with chewing, swallowing, or talking
  • Persistent hoarseness or sore throat

If you suspect or notice any of the above findings and it lasts for more than two weeks, contact your dentist immediately.


Who is at risk for oral cancer?

The American Cancer Society’s 2017 estimates for mouth and oropharyngeal cancers in the US are:

  • About 49,670 people will develop mouth or oropharyngeal cancer
  • An estimated 9,700 people will die of these cancers (that’s approximately one death every hour, every day)

Studies have shown that men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women.  In addition, men who are over 50 years old face an even greater risk.  However, women and young people can also develop these cancers.

Other risk factors for developing oral cancer include:

  • Smoking or using smokeless tobacco products (increases your risk 50 times over a non-tobacco user)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption (increases your risk 6 times that of a non-drinker)
  • Family history of cancer
  • Excessive exposure to the sun (especially at a young age)
  • Infection with the HPV-16 virus (now becoming the leading cause of oral cancer in the US)


How is oral cancer diagnosed?

At New Hampshire Center for Comprehensive Dentistry, both your hygienist and your dentist will perform an oral cancer screening during your regular dental checkups.  Your lips, mouth and face will be visually checked for changes in the tissues.  In addition, your hygienist and dentist will feel for any lumps or irregular changes in your neck, face, head and inside your mouth.  If a suspicious area is found, further testing may be indicated.

To learn more about screening for oral cancer in Amherst, New Hampshire, and to schedule your next dental exam and cleaning appointment, contact our dental office at 603-672-6546 today.