Posts for: September, 2014
While oral cancer makes up only a small portion of annual cancer cases, they are nonetheless a critical situation for those patients who develop them. Because cancer lesions in the mouth are easily mistaken for other kinds of sores or overlooked as they develop, they're often not detected until the later stages of the disease. The lack of early detection is a major factor in a dismal overall survival rate for oral cancer of 58%, five years after treatment. On the other hand, oral cancer diagnosed in earlier stages of development boast a much improved survival rate — up to 80% after five years.
The most important factor for early detection is your own observations while performing oral hygiene. A lesion can occur anywhere in the oral cavity (the mouth) or the pharynx (back of the mouth and throat). Of particular concern are abnormalities that appear on the lips and on or around the tongue. These abnormalities may first look like cold or canker sores, ulcers or white patches. If they don't begin to diminish in a few days, then you should certainly contact our office for an oral cancer exam (this exam is also part of your routine office visit).
While there are a number of diagnostic screening tests, the best method for achieving an accurate diagnosis is a biopsy. We would remove a small sample of the abnormal tissue (if the area is large enough to begin with) and have it analyzed microscopically. If the abnormality is small, the complete abnormality would be removed so that if it was determined to be benign or in a pre-cancerous stage, we would have already treated your condition by removing the abnormal tissue. If, however, the sample returns positive for cancer and we were unable to remove it totally during the biopsy, then a course of treatment must be developed utilizing other specialists in dental and medical oncology.
You should also be aware that there are actions you can take to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer in the first place: protect yourself from too much sun exposure; moderate your intake of alcoholic beverages; refrain from any tobacco use (smoking and smokeless) or risky sexual activity; and eat a plant-based, whole food diet. These actions coupled with vigilance for early detection can make a difference in your oral health — it may even save your life.
If you would like more information on oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
For years, even as tobacco use began to decline and disappear in most settings, professional baseball seemed one of the few exceptions. Now, the tide is finally turning. Recently, the legendary right-hand pitcher Curt Schilling revealed that he had been treated for oral cancer — and said that his chewing tobacco habit was to blame. “I’ll go to my grave believing that was why I got [cancer],” Schilling told the Boston Globe.
Schilling isn’t the only former player whose oral cancer is blamed on smokeless tobacco. Tony Gwynn, Hall of Famer and beloved coach, recently passed away from oral cancer at the age of 54. His death led to players pledging to give up the habit. But many still use “dip” or “snuff,” thinking perhaps it’s not so bad after all.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. With nicotine as its active ingredient, chewing tobacco can be just as addictive as cigarettes. Not only is nicotine addictive, it also increases heart rate and blood pressure, constricts the arteries, and affects the body in other ways. In addition to nicotine, chewing tobacco contains about 30 other chemicals known to cause cancer.
Tobacco use of any kind is a major risk factor for oral cancer. While it isn’t as well-known as some other types of cancer, oral cancer can be just as deadly. About 43,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with it each year — and the 5-year survival rate is just 57%. One reason for the relatively low survival rate is that oral cancer isn’t usually detected until it has reached a later stage, when it’s much harder to treat.
What can you do to reduce your risk for oral cancer? Clearly, you should stop using tobacco products of any kind. Moderating your intake of alcohol, and eating more plant foods and less red meat can also have an impact. And don’t forget to have regular dental checkups: cancer’s warning signs can often be recognized in an oral examination — and early detection can boost survival rates to 80-90 percent.
How does Schilling feel about chewing tobacco now? “I lost my sense of smell, my taste buds for the most part. I had gum issues, they bled, all this other stuff,” he told the Globe. “I wish I could go back and never have dipped. Not once.”
If you have questions about oral cancer or cancer prevention, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Chewing Tobacco” and “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”