Reducing Deaths from Oral Cancer with Early Detection:
Article By Dr. Donovan R. Hansen of Desert Valley Oral Surgery
As an Arizona oral and maxillofacial surgeon, I am all too familiar with oral cancer dangers. Sometimes I am the one who discovers the cancer at my Desert Valley practice. However, just as often, a patient’s dentist has discovered the cancer and sent the patient to me for biopsy and possible removal.
The disease is deadly, killing 10,000 people every year. Only 6 out of 10 patients will make it five years. On the other hand, just as breast cancer and prostate cancer have become less deadly due to early diagnosis, oral cancer can become less deadly as well. Dental patients simply need to ask for the oral cancer screening. Early detection can change the trajectory of the disease and save a life.
Using special equipment, your dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon can spot early signs. These cancers take anywhere from two to eight years to become dangerous. This means that an early detection system coupled with the right treatment plan can be quite effective.
Patients should watch for signs of these cancers, but it can be hard to detect. Even if you shine a light into your mouth, you may not be able to see the problem. Cancer may appear in your oral cavity. That’s everything up front. It includes your lips, gums, mouth floor and hard palate. Much of your tongue is included as well. Your oropharynx starts in the middle, where the upper palate goes soft, and goes to the tonsils. It also includes the base of the tongue.
As you read over the symptoms, you can become aware of danger signs and share them with your dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon. When you inspect your mouth, you should be on the lookout for red or white patches, an irritation, sore or rough spot that doesn’t heal, an eroded area, or a lump or thickening.
Advanced cancers may cause problems that you notice but may not seem related. This includes hoarseness, difficulty speaking, or a change in your voice. Some patients feel like there’s something caught in their throat. Others may notice a sore throat or numbness. Still others may have difficulty chewing or swallowing. Moving your tongue or jaw may become difficult.
When your dentist identifies a suspicious spot in your mouth, try not to think the worst. If it doesn’t clear up on its own within a few weeks, the next step is a biopsy. I routinely perform these in my office. Catching it early is your best bet to faster treatment and a surer cure.
By the way, if you want to reduce your risk, it’s important to end tobacco use, including smoking, and to restrict drinking alcohol. A poor diet is also a contributing factor. Unfortunately, the HPV virus can also play a role in triggering the cancer. If you have ever had oral cancer before, it remains a threat and should be monitored by a professional.
As with many diseases, age plays a factor. For instance, men over 50 are considered the most vulnerable group. However, a rise of oral cancers in patients under 40 has been noticed.
I encourage you to see your dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon to get checked out for oral cancer. An early screening gives you the best chance at a long and happy life without oral cancer. You can learn more from the Oral Cancer Foundation.
Dr. Donovan R. Hansen is a board-certified Diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. He earned a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine where he won the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS) Dental Student Award. He completed his Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery specialty training at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. His residency training focused on office-based oral surgery, dental extractions, implants, bone grafting, corrective jaw (orthognathic) surgery, facial trauma, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) surgery. He also received extensive training in intravenous (IV) and general anesthesia with the Department of Anesthesiology. He has published scholarly papers and textbook chapters on topics including procedural sedation, facial trauma & pathology.