Oral cancer is one of the most misunderstood forms of cancer. Patients often think that if they don't use tobacco products, they are safe from getting oral cancer. However, you may be surprised to learn that this disease affects a wide range of people. It's critical to separate fact from fiction by understanding the disease as a whole.
Tompkins Dental is here to debunk the top 5 oral cancer myths we hear most during routine cancer screenings.
Myth #1: Only Smokers Get Oral Cancer
While it's true that tobacco use significantly increases your risk of developing oral cancer, it's not the only possible cause. Tobacco use is thought to be one of the primary oral cancer risk factors, but people who have never smoked before also get oral cancer.
Regular, repeated insults to the mouth's soft tissue from habits such as smoking cigars or cigarettes, chewing or dipping tobacco, or consuming alcohol regularly will increase your risk factors. However, one of the largest oral cancer sources is currently HPV, which is seen in nearly 80% of the United States' adult population.
Myth #2: Symptoms of Oral Cancer Are Obvious
Eventually, cancerous lesions will cause symptoms in most cases, but for the most part, oral cancer is painless and easy to miss in its early stages. Lesions, which lead to oral cancer, usually occur in areas that are not highly visible, like the back of the throat, the floor of the mouth, or under the tongue.
Myth #3: Mouth and Throat Cancers Are Rare
According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, lip and oral cancers ranked among common cancers worldwide.
Myth #4: Only Older Adults Are At Risk
Cancer does typically develop in older patients, and it is unusual to see oral cancers in patients under the age of 40, but it's not impossible. Because of the link between HPV and oral cancer, more young adults have been diagnosed with the disease than in the past.
Myth #5: My Dentist Doesn't Offer Screenings
Oral cancer screenings are part of a standard routine dental exam. Early detection is critical to achieving the best possible treatment. Receiving routine oral cancer screenings can help to detect the disease in its beginning stages. Early detection is a crucial piece in achieving a good treatment outcome.
Signs of Oral Cancer
As previously mentioned, mouth cancer rarely causes any pain. Abnormal cell growth typically appears as flat patches that look like canker sores or an ulcer.
Common signs of oral cancer to watch for include:
- White or red patches on the gums, tongue, tonsils, or lining of the mouth
- Hoarseness that doesn't go away
- Permanent teeth become loose
- Ear pain
- Difficult or painful to swallow or chew
- Lump or growth inside your mouth
- Persistent smelly breath
- Unexplained weight loss
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
- Sores in the mouth that won't go away
Lowering Your Risk Factors
- Avoid using tobacco products
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Protect yourself from HPV
- Eat lots of vegetables and fruits
- Limit your sun exposure
- Get regular dental exams
Mouth Cancer Treatments
Treatments for mouth cancer can vary based on your specific type of cancer and the size of the malignant growth. Additionally, information such as your overall health and how far the cancer has already spread are considered.
Oral cancer is just as dangerous as other types of cancer, so it's imperative to watch for warning signs and be screened often. If you or someone you know is experiencing oral cancer symptoms, contact Tompkins Dental to schedule an exam with our highly trained staff.