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What You Need to Know About Oral Cancer

oral cancer surviverWhen you go to your dentist for routine cleanings and checkups, he or she is looking at the health of your gums and whether you have any cavities. Did you know that your exam also includes a cancer screening? The signs of oral cancer can be overlooked by many people, so your dentist will be taking a look to see if he or she sees any, and will send you for further evaluation if cancer is suspected. Because oral cancer has a better prognosis if it’s caught early, it’s important to know the signs and get in to be seen right away if you notice any of them. Read on for what you need to know about oral cancer and how to keep yourself healthy.

Signs of Oral Cancer

If something changes in the way your tongue, cheeks, lips, or gums feel or look, it’s wise to get it checked out. Common symptoms of oral cancer include a thickening or lump in any of these areas. You might also see red or white patches, persistent sores, or unexplained bleeding in your mouth. You might feel a patch of numbness or tingling that persists, or you might have difficulty chewing or swallowing. Any of these symptoms warrant prompt evaluation. While a bitten cheek or tongue can create a sore or red patch, get it checked if it’s not healed within two weeks.

Causes of Oral Cancer

As you might imagine, the most common cause of oral cancer is smoking or chewing tobacco. If you are currently smoking or chewing, it’s a good idea to talk to your dentist or physician about ways to quit. Drinking a lot of alcohol can also cause cancerous lesions in the mouth, as can too much sun exposure (which would generally cause cancer on the lips) or a family history of cancer. If you have any of these risk factors, make it a point to mention it to your dentist. Anyone can get oral cancer, however; even if you don’t have any risk factors, it’s important to see your dentist twice per year for a cancer screening.

What If You Suspect Oral Cancer?

Your dentist will provide an evaluation and can examine your tongue, lips, cheeks, neck, and head for symptoms. If there is anything suspicious, you’ll be referred to either your family physician or an oncologist for further evaluation. From there, you’ll be referred or treated as needed. Keep in mind that the sooner oral cancer is detected, the more effective the treatment.

If you are due for a cleaning and checkup, please call us today to schedule an appointment.

Creative Commons image by Marcel Oosterwijk


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