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April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month: When in Doubt, Get It Checked!

Oral cancer can affect anyone. Don't ignore the warning signs.

Oral cancer is more common than you think:8000 Americans are killed each year by this form of cancer. More than 40,000 cases are reported every year.  The death rate for oral cancer is higher than cervical cancer. 

Most cases are found on the tongue or floor of the mouth.  Lips, gums and palate can also be affected. The earlier a cancer is detected and treated, the greater the survival rate so early detection is crucial.

What are the Warning Signs? Oral cancer is typically painless in the early stages.  Thickened tissues, lumps in the mouth or a discolored patch are a concern and should be checked.  White patches in areas where people keep their smokeless tobacco are usually pre-cancerous and can become oral cancers with repeated exposure. 

As a cancer progresses, these lesions may become painful. Persistent hoarseness or difficulty awallowing can also by associated with a cancerous lesion.

Who is at risk? Today, excessive use of alcohol, exposure to the sun and individuals with the human papilloma virus are at increased risk. Tobacco users are also at risk.

What is involved in screening for oral cancer? An evaluation of the soft tissues in typically performed by most dentists during a regular six month check-up.  If you feel something that looks or feels differently, be sure to mention it to you dental professional. 

Suspicious areas can be biopsied, and results will determine if additional treatment is recommended.

 What causes cancer—nobody knows, however, reducing risk factors is a great way to decrease the risk of developing a cancerous lesion. Reduce or eliminate all forms of tobacco use. Consider giving up drinking alcohol in excess. Get vaccinated for HPV if not a carrier already. Report any changes inside your mouth to your dental professional.

Oral cancer can affect anyone.  It has been diagnosed in many famous people. Diane Von Furstenberg, Eddie Van Halen, Jack Klugman, Aaron Spelling, Rod Stewart, George Harrison, Grover Cleveland, Babe Ruth and Lana Turner all had some form of oral cancer. I have had two patients that have been diagnosed with oral cancer.  Neither were smokers or had a habit of frequent alcohol use. Today they are alive and well because their dentist (me) didn't let a little white spot get ignored. I encourage all to schedule a check up and screening if you have not had one lately.  It could save your llife.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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