Since oral cancer is twice as common in men as it is in women, it is often assumed that only older men who have smoked tobacco all their lives should be concerned about the condition. While there is a lifestyle aspect to it, more younger people have contracted the disease in recent years, and unfortunately, it is often caught only in advanced stages. That's why dentists recommend regular oral cancer screening for individuals between the ages of 25-50.
Oral Cancer Facts
Oral cancer has one of the lowest 5-year survival rates, with only 52% of people surviving for five years after diagnosis.
30, 000 people are affected by oral cancer every year. Oral cancer is extremely disfiguring and results in chronic discomfort, severe loss of oral function, and difficulty speaking, swallowing, and chewing.
Risk factors include prolonged sun exposure and smokeless tobacco use. The most common sites for oral cancer include the tissues in the back of the tongue, gums, lips, and the floor of the mouth, but it can also affect the cheek lining, soft palate, and hard palate.
People under the age of 40 make up 2.5% of all cancer cases, and 1.5% of all cancer-related deaths.
Regular oral cancer screening for people aged 25-50 leads to early detection. When detected early, cancer has not progressed to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. That increases the likelihood of successful treatment.
Understanding Oral Cancer Screening
When you visit your dentist, ask for a thorough oral cancer screening. It will only take a few minutes. The examination will include a thorough physical examination and a family history of cancer. You will be asked about your medical history, as well as any risk behaviors, such as alcohol and tobacco usage, or exposure to neck and head radiotherapy.
It will involve a visual inspection of the following regions:
Your dentist will palpate the nodes in these areas using his or her fingers. Next, the floor of your tongue and mouth will be palpated. Using a light and mouth mirror, the dentist will observe the pharyngeal mucosa, before pulling your tongue forward using gauze to get a good look at the entire surface.
Increased Age = Increased Risk for Oral Cancer
While it is important for anyone over the age of 25 to be regularly screened for oral cancer, patients over the age of 40 are generally considered to be at a higher risk.
Noticed anything odd that has lasted more than 2-4 weeks? Ask your dentist to refer you to a specialist for a thorough examination and tests, as well as a definitive diagnosis. A biopsy is key to finding the right treatment for a persistent oral lesion.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
While there are many symptoms of oral cancer, not all types of cancers present symptoms. Some people have been diagnosed after showing up for a routine instruction, to have tumor fluids running out of the extraction site. That said, it is important to visit your dentist if you notice any of the following:
- any sores that bleed easily or takes longer than 2 weeks to heal
- any strange masses, crusts, or eroded areas
- pain, numbness, or tenderness
- voice changes
Be sure to book your oral cancer screening twice a year as part of your regular dental appointment.