An unusual bump on your tongue. A lump on your gums. A lesion in the back of your throat. These unusual symptoms can be harmless and heal on their own. Or they can signal the early stages of oral cancer.
Fortunately, the earlier oral cancer is identified, the easier it is to treat. Your dentist may spend most of their time on your teeth and gums, but while doing their dental work, they are in a prime position to spot the signs of oral cancer.
Early Detection of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is a blanket term that covers several types of cancer that can occur in the tongue, cheeks, lips, gums, and throat. Oral cavity cancer occurs in the mouth area, while oropharyngeal, or throat, cancer occurs in the esophageal tract.
Through continuing education programs and training that focuses on early detection, a dentist is trained to identify suspicious growths or discolored areas in the mouth and throat that may signal the onset of throat cancer. Checking for these signs is an important part of any routine dental exam.
According to the National Institute of Health, about 39,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed every year in the US, with about 8,000 deaths. It is essential to identify oral cancer as early as possible. The five-year survival rate for oral cancer diagnosed early is 75 percent, but only 20 percent if the diagnosis is made late.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
Certain risk factors make an individual more likely to develop oral cancer:
Smoking, whether cigarettes, cigars, or pipes
Chewing tobacco. Users are 50 times more likely to develop cancer in the cheeks, gums, or lips.
Excessive alcohol consumption
Contracting human papillomavirus (HPV)
All of these factors contributed to actor Michael Douglas’ battle with throat cancer. In 2010, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments for two months. Douglas was a heavy smoker and drinker, and likely contracted HPV due to oral sex.
Guitarist Eddie Van Halen battled tongue cancer for two years, and ended up with surgery that removed a third of his tongue. Though he was also a heavy smoker and drinker, Van Halen blames the cancer on his habit of holding metal guitar picks in his mouth, on the same spot on his tongue that later developed cancer.
In both cases, early diagnosis saved these two stars, allowing them to seek timely treatment. Both are now cancer-free, though they undergo frequent checkups to look for recurrences.
Get Oral Cancer Checkups Regularly
Getting checked for oral cancer at your dentist is fast and easy. One dentist in Los Angeles who provides oral cancer checkups is Dr. Shervin Louie. With celebrity patients such as actress Alison Brie and rapper Soulja Boy, Dr. Louie is used to providing the utmost quality of care.