April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. In the United States alone every hour of every day someone loses their life to oral or oropharyngeal cancer. It is the cancer of the mouth and upper throat. Only forty percent of patients diagnosed will live longer than five years. Patients often end up suffering from facial disfigurement or trouble talking and eating. Its fatality is directly linked to its late-stage diagnosis. Dentists are often the first to identify oral cancer symptoms in patients, which is why offering oral cancer screenings is crucial. Early detection and prevention are key.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Dentists should provide their patients with information on the symptoms and indicators of oral cancer. If a patient has an abnormality in their mouth that does not improve or disappear after two to three weeks, they need to see a dental professional immediately. Urge your patients to perform self-checks and be vigilant of symptoms, such as:
- Sores or ulcers that do not heal with fourteen days.
- A sudden change in the coloring of the soft tissue, either red, white, or black.
- Any area that bleeds instantly when touched.
- A lump or a hard spot along the border of the tongue.
- Raised tissue or a growth.
- Sores under or surrounding a denture.
- A thickening in the mouth or lump.
- A painless yet firm lump on the outside of the neck, present for at least two weeks.
For HPV-caused oropharyngeal cancer, symptoms manifest as:
- Constant hoarse or sore throat.
- A lump on the outside of the neck that is firm and fixated.
- Frequent coughing.
- Problems swallowing.
- An earache, often on one side, that lasts more than a few days.
The overall common factor between these symptoms is that they are persistent and non-resolving. If you notice any of these symptoms or are told of any during your examination, be hypervigilant and provide your patient with the care and information needed.
Research has provided a few factors that can lead or help with the development of oral and oropharyngeal cancers. Patients who are or have been heavy drinkers and smokers are at a high risk. This is especially true in patients over the age of fifty years old. More recently, it is becoming more frequent in younger, non-smoking individuals due to the prevalence of HPV16, or the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. This raises the risk of oropharyngeal cancer in the tonsils or the base of the tongue. For ninety-nine percent of people who develop an HPV oral infection, their body’s will clear the virus on their one. It is the one percent of patients whose immune system doesn’t that are at risk for cancer.