Offered by Dr. Jeffrey Poulson – Poulson Family Dental
April is oral cancer month so we want to take the opportunity to discuss some of the risks, myths and concerns regarding oral cancer. First, a few myths.
- Myth #1: If I’ve never smoked, drank or have HPV, I’m not at risk for oral cancers.
Truth: Approximately 25% of oral cancers develop in individuals who have never been exposed to these three risk factors.
- Myth #2 Oral cancer only occurs in the elderly.
Age does increase your risk for oral cancers but it can occur at any age and seems to be increasing in people under the age of 40.
- Myth #3: There is no benefit to quitting alcohol or tobacco use.
Thankfully, the risk of oral cancer is reduced for former smokers and the same is believed to be true of alcohol consumption. It may take years for your risk to decrease but it can! So, don’t put off quitting – every day you avoid these substances, you decrease your overall risk. Every exposure to alcohol or tobacco causes damage to cells. If healing fails, it can cause cancer. It’s best to decrease the need for your body to heal.
Next, what puts you at risk for oral cancer? There is no single risk factor that causes cancer. Oral cancers are significantly higher in individuals that are exposed to alcohol or tobacco in any form or method of delivery, especially if used in combination. Additionally, human papilloma virus (HPV) is a strong risk factor for developing oral cancers. A few other factors that have been linked to oral cancers are: smoking marijuana, having low fruit and vegetable intake and being male! Some people are concerned that oral cancers can be caused by missing or damaged teeth, poor oral hygiene or brushing habits, eating spicy or hot foods, dentures, crowns or bridges. Thankfully, none of these factors seem to increase your risk for oral cancers. Unfortunately though, people who live healthy, active lives that are never exposed to the top three risk factors can also develop oral cancer.
So now what? What can you do about it? Consistent visits to your dentist and dental hygienists allows for frequent visual scans for cancer. A good oral cancer screening done by professionals will include a visual look and manipulation of your neck, jaw, lips, cheeks, tongue and floor of the mouth. The most common place for oral cancers to occur is on the back sides of the tongue. So, when your dental professional has you stick your tongue out or uses a piece of gauze and pulls your tongue side to side, they are checking to make sure there are no funny lumps, bumps or spots on the side of your tongue. They look for changes in the four main things, known as the ABCDs: Asymmetry, Border, Color or Diameter. You are also your best advocate for your health. When you are brushing your teeth, applying makeup, washing your face or any other daily hygiene habits, pay attention. Look for the ABCDs: an asymmetrical spot, one that has an irregular border or getting thicker or harder, a change in color or multiple colors in one spot or an area that is getting bigger. If you notice anything, visit a professional and request an oral cancer screening. Hopefully it’ll be nothing! But, early diagnosis and treatment of oral cancers has roughly a 75% survival rate, whereas later stage diagnosis drops to 35% or less. Don’t be embarrassed to ask! It could make a dramatic difference to you and your family.
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