April is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness month. Approximately 48,000 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer this year. Some of the risk factors include smoking, alcohol (especially when combined with tobacco use), and exposure to the sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Studies show that the chance of surviving oral cancer is 80 to 90% if you catch it in its earliest stages.
Oral cancer may develop on the lips, gums, tongue, inside lining of the cheeks and the roof and floor of the mouth. Over 40% of these cancers are found on the floor of the mouth or on the tongue. It often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or a sore. While the following signs and symptoms may not mean you have cancer, they are the most common signs and symptoms of oral cancer:
• A sore that does not heal within about two weeks, or that bleeds easily.
• A lump, thickening, or a rough or crusty spot on the skin or lining of your mouth.
• A tiny white or reddish patch anywhere inside of your mouth.
• Pain, tenderness or numbness in your mouth or on your lips.
• A color change of the oral tissues.
• Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.
• A change in the way your teeth fit together.
While nothing can take the place of an oral evaluation/cancer screening by your dentist, doing self-exams at home can increase the likelihood that an oral cancer can be detected early. Use a flashlight and mirror to look inside your mouth. Feel the inside of your mouth, lips and gums. Pull your cheek out to inspect the inside of the mouth and tilt your head to check the roof and floor of your mouth. Make sure to check your tongue and all of its surfaces.
It is important to have any sore or discolored area of your mouth, which does not heal within 14 days, looked at by a professional. If you suspect you may have oral cancer make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible for a complete oral evaluation and oral cancer screening. We care about your health and well-being!
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