April is Oral Cancer Awareness month and OCF would like to invite you to join us in our national screening campaign to end oral cancer! Oral Cancer awareness in the American public is low. While smoking and tobacco use are still major risk factors, the fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients is young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals due to the connection to the HPV virus. We cannot stop this virus from spreading; our only hope to save lives is with professional involvement and public awareness.
Oral cancer can form in any part of the mouth. Most oral cancers begin in the flat cells that cover the surfaces of your mouth, tongue, and lips. Anyone can get oral cancer, but the risk is higher if you are male, use tobacco, drink lots of alcohol, have HPV, or have a history of head or neck cancer. Frequent sun exposure is also a risk factor for lip cancer. Dentists look for early signs of mouth cancer during regular checkup appointments, but it’s also important for you to recognize these warning signals so you can bring them to the attention of your dentist right away.
Although the exact cause of oral cancer is unclear, there are certain lifestyle factors that can put someone at risk for this disease. Tobacco of any kind – cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco – increase your risk for oral cancer. Heavy use of alcohol also increases a person’s chances of developing oral cancer. In addition to tobacco and alcohol, age and eating habits can influence your risk as well. Most oral cancers occur in people over the age of 40, and a diet that is deficient in fruits and vegetables can make it easier to contract.
Once mouth cancer is diagnosed, your doctor works to determine the extent, or stage, of your cancer. Mouth cancer stages are indicated using Roman numerals I through IV. A lower stage, such as stage I, indicates a smaller cancer confined to one area. A higher stage, such as stage IV, indicates a larger tumor or that cancer has spread to other areas of the head or neck, or to other areas of the body. Your cancer’s stage helps your doctor determine your treatment options. Treatment for mouth cancer depends on your cancer’s location and stage, as well as your overall health and personal preferences.
You may have just one type of treatment, or you may undergo a combination of cancer treatments. Treatment options include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Patients with cancers treated in their early stages, may have little in the way of post treatment disfigurement. For those whose cancer is caught at a later stage, the results of surgical removal of the disease may require reconstruction of portions of their oral cavity or facial features. The recovery from each type of treatment will vary
Post-surgery symptoms can include pain and swelling, but removing small tumors usually has no associated long-term problems. The removal of larger tumors could possibly affect your ability to chew, swallow, or talk as well as you did before the surgery. You might also need reconstructive surgery to rebuild the bones and tissues in your face removed during surgery. After treatment, your doctor will want you to get frequent checkups to make sure that you are recovering. Your checkups will usually consist of physical exams, blood tests, X-rays, and CT scans. Make sure to follow up with your dentist or oncologist if you notice anything out of the ordinary.