Nearly 55,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year, a largely preventable type of cancer that can be detected through a professional oral examination. At our Miami dental office, Dr. Gallardo and his team use advanced oral cancer screening methods during every routine visit to ensure any abnormalities are caught early when conditions are most treatable.
Types Of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is the sixth most common type of cancer in the world. And, unfortunately, only a little over half of those diagnosed with this type of cancer survive five years or longer after the diagnosis. But early detection and treatment can save your life. In fact, The Oral Cancer Foundation states that the survival rate for oral cancer is 80-90% when caught and treated early.
More than 90% of mouth or oral tumors are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cells are the cells that make up the inner lining of the oral cavity, also known as mucosa. This type of cancer develops when squamous cells mutate and become abnormal.
Other types of oral cancer include:
- Verrucous carcinoma
- Oral melanoma
- Lip cancer
- Gum and jaw cancer
- Tongue carcinoma
- Palate, cheek, and mouth cancer
- Salivary gland carcinoma
What Kind Of Symptoms Does Oral Cancer Cause?
Symptoms of oral cancer vary from person to person, but since early detection is essential for successful treatment and recovery, it’s important to know the potential signs and report them to Dr. Gallardo as soon as possible. Call our Miami dental office or click here to schedule an appointment if you notice:
- Swelling, lumps, or rough patches on any area inside your mouth
- Velvety or speckled patches in your mouth
- Loss of feeling in your mouth, face, or neck area
- Unexplained bleeding inside your mouth
- Sores on the mouth, face, or neck that bleed easily and don’t heal within 2 weeks
- Chronic sore throat and hoarseness
- A feeling that something is stuck in the back of your throat
- Difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, moving your jaw, or moving your tongue
- Ear pain
- Dramatic weight loss
- Change in the fit of your dentures
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
Changes or mutations in a cell’s DNA can cause oral cancer. It happens when mutated cells continue to divide uncontrollably, eventually leading to a tumor. Although the specific cause of the mutations that lead to oral cancer isn’t fully understood, there are a number of risk factors that are thought to increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.
Understanding what factors increase your risk of developing cancer in the mouth or throat can also help you take steps to reduce your risk and protect your health. Here’s what you need to know about the most common risk factors for oral cancer.
Smoking And Tobacco Use
It might not be much of a surprise to learn that smoking and using tobacco products such as chewing tobacco are leading risk factors for oral cancer. Smoking a pipe is linked to an exceptionally high risk of developing cancer on the lips, in the area where the stem of the pipe comes into contact. Additionally, the smoke inhaled from any tobacco device can contribute to cancer in the throat, such as larynx cancer and esophageal cancer.
Using smokeless tobacco can also increase your risk of developing oral cancer. Smokeless tobacco is often connected to the development of cancer on the soft tissue inside the mouth, such as the gums and inside of the cheeks.
Drinking alcohol, particularly drinking heavily, can elevate your risk of developing oral cancer. Nearly 70% of people with oral cancer also happen to be heavy drinkers. Smoking and drinking alcohol combined seem to raise the risk of developing oral cancer dramatically.
Eating a nutritious diet can help to reduce your risk of developing cancer. People who eat a diet low in vegetables and fruits tend to have a higher risk of cancer than people who do eat a lot of these nutrition-packed foods.
Age And Gender
Your age and gender can also influence your risk of developing cancer. For example, men are more than twice as likely as women to be diagnosed with oral cancer. One reason for the elevated rates of oral cancer in men might be that more men smoke and drink heavily than women.
Older people also have a higher chance of developing oral cancer compared to younger people. In fact, most patients with oral cancer are over the age of 55. One reason for that might be that oral cancers often take years to develop
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a fairly common virus. There are hundreds of strains of HPV, some of which are relatively harmless and merely lead to the development of benign warts (aka papillomas). However, other forms of HPV can contribute to cancer, and various types of HPV can cause cancer of the mouth or throat.
Since there are so many types of HPV, it’s possible to have some form of the virus and never develop cancer or even any symptoms (such as warts). But in recent years, the number of oral cancers linked to HPV has been on the rise.
What Happens During An Oral Cancer Screening?
Oral cancer can be detected by a doctor or dentist, like Dr. Gallardo, performing screening and exams. When screening for oral cancer, a dentist will inspect your mouth, looking for lumps or lesions, as well as areas of discoloration, such as white, gray, or red spots. Your dentist will also feel around the throat for any lumps or abnormalities.
Along with visually and manually inspecting your oral cavity, cheeks, tongue, and gums, dentists can use technology and tools when screening for oral cancer. For example, one system uses fluorescent lights to help detect early lesions, because cancerous lesions appear benign or normal to the human eye in the earliest stages. The use of technology means that dentists can sometimes make a cancer diagnosis earlier, giving the patient more time for treatment and a better chance of survival.
If your dentist does spot something that might be cancerous, they will usually perform a biopsy and send the cells to a lab for testing. Then, depending on the size and type of lesion, they might recommend a follow-up appointment to monitor and reassess the situation.
Yes, cancer screenings are very necessary! Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the US, and, sadly, only about 50 to 60% of people who get it survive for 5 years or more. This is because most oral cancers are found at later stages when the disease is harder to treat. Early detection can lead to prompt treatment that could save your life.
Oral cancer is diagnosed through a physical examination to look for abnormalities in the mouth, lips, and gums, such as lumps, ulcers, and sores. If your dentist finds a concerning sign, they will perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
Yes, when treated early, oral cancer can be cured. You can also reduce your risk of getting it by avoiding tobacco of any form, using lip balm with SPF 30 or higher, limiting alcohol, and seeing your dentist regularly for an oral cancer screening.
Most adults should get a professional oral cancer screening at least once a year. However, people with increased risk factors, such as smokers, heavy drinkers, and those with a family history of oral cancer, may need to get screened more frequently.
While only a biopsy can confirm an oral cancer diagnosis, you can (and should) get into the habit of self-examining at home once a month in between dentist visits. Click here for a step-by-step guide on how to check your mouth for oral cancer at home.