The biggest challenge with detecting oral cancer in its early stages is that it is not painful. Many people have no idea when there are lumps or bumps present in their mouth. I am often the first one to bring them to their attention. In my eight years of practicing dentistry I have already found more cancerous lesions than I ever thought I would. My biggest surprise was precancerous cells in a female patient in her early teens. Thankfully, I have always made a point to perform an oral cancer exam on all patients no matter their age so if you bring your infant or great grandmother in, I’ll be looking!
Treatments have varied widely depending on how early the lesion was found. The best outcomes of course, have been the ones I detected early and have usually involved only removal of the lesion. A few other patients however, came in for an initial visit after they became symptomatic. As a result of the late diagnosis they have had much more invasive treatment involving removal of all of the teeth, removal of portions of jawbone, radiation and chemotherapy.
While I can not speak from personal experience of the debilitating effects of cancer, I have seen that oral cancer can be especially challenging emotionally and physically. How do we convey how we are feeling and what we are thinking? How do we enjoy things like our favorite meal that our parents make or kiss our spouse when they come home from a long day? With our mouths!
Many of those that have needed surgery for treatment experience difficulty with breathing, speaking, eating, swallowing and drinking. Radiation therapy can cause dry mouth which leads to a whole new array of problems. This includes an increased risk for dental decay, which in turn becomes a major set back if teeth need to be extracted after radiation therapy.
If you are young, old, missing teeth or have no teeth, you can still get oral cancer. So the moral of the story is get an oral cancer exam at least once a year!
If you experience any of the following, come see us immediately:
- A lump, bump or sore inside or around your mouth that persists for two weeks or more
- A red or white patch inside your mouth that persists for two weeks or more
- A lump on the side of your neck that persists for two weeks or more
- Teeth become loose with no apparent cause
- If you notice any change in your swallowing or feel that things are sticking in your throat when you swallow
- If you have chronic hoarseness
- If you have an earache, particularly on one side, that seems to persist
- If you or your friends notice a change in your voice