Nobody likes going to the dentist. It can be painful and uncomfortable, and even worse for the elderly as they begin to experience a decrease in dental health. However, as people age it becomes increasingly important to maintain regular checkups with dentists in order to prevent diseases such as oral cancer. Oral cancer, which is a growth or sore in the mouth, lips, tongue, or cheeks, can be deadly if not treated properly. Diagnosis for oral cancer increases after the age of 50 and hits its peak between ages 60 – 70, making it essential to maintain a close watch on elderly patients.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, more than 43,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. Oral cancer will cause over 8,000 deaths. Only 57% of those diagnosed will still be alive in five years. Fortunately though, early diagnosis is the key to both saving lives and preventing disfigurement. When found at early stages of development, oral cancers have an 80% to 90% survival rate.
For decades, the leading cause of oral cancer was smoking or chewing tobacco, the heavy consumption of alcohol and excessive sun exposure. Most of the diseases’ victims were older males who had used tobacco for several decades. More recently, HPV 16, a subtype of the human papilloma virus (HPV), has been discovered as a risk factor for some forms of oral cancer. HPV is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancers (occurring in the back of the mouth and throat area), and is also responsible for a very small number of other oral cancers. Other risk factors that increase chances of oral cancer are age and a diet low in fruits and vegetables.
One reason oral cancer is so deadly is that it is difficult to discover unless the cancer has worked its way into another area of the body, usually the lymph nodes. Because of this, the cancer has had a chance to invade deep into the body, making treatment more difficult.
How can I detect oral cancer early?
The key to detecting oral cancer is to pay attention to warning signs. The most common symptoms of oral cancer may include swellings and thickenings in the mouth, as well as the development of white, red or speckled patches in the mouth or on the throat or tongue. Other symptoms may include:
If you or a loved one is experiencing one or more of these symptoms for longer than two weeks, it is recommended that you see a physician and receive an oral cancer exam.
How can I prevent oral cancer?
As with most cancers, early diagnosis is the key to catching this disease and giving the patient the best chance for a successful outcome. Oral cancer can be life-threatening and the dentist is the first line of defense. A five-minute oral cancer screening can make all the difference in the world. The exam causes no pain, and allows the dentist or doctor to check the face, neck, lips, tongue, mouth, and the back of the throat for signs of oral cancer
There are also many preventative measures people can take on early in their life that will reduce the risk of oral cancer. Avoiding tobacco products, drinking alcohol in moderation, avoiding excessive sun exposure on the lips and seeing a dentist regularly can all greatly reduce your risk.
Overall, oral cancer is a deadly disease that when untreated can cause serious damage. So protect your smile and make sure you know the facts in order to protect yourself and others the best you can.
If you have any questions or think someone you know might be experiencing symptoms of oral cancer, contact your physician.
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