April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month
This month of April, we observe the 23rd Annual Oral Cancer Awareness Month across the nation. Many dental associations and schools are joining the Oral Cancer Foundation in raising awareness about oral cancer in the U.S.
During this month, many dental professionals are also advocating for the early detection of oral cancer as the best way to combat it.
Here are what you need to know about oral and oropharyngeal cancers this awareness month:
1. What is mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer and Oropharyngeal cancer can affect your mouth cavity and pharynx. They can affect the lips, tongue, tonsils, gums, and other parts of the mouth. They’re classified under head and neck cancers and are considered serious conditions. They can cause facial disfigurement or difficulties.
The death rate associated with mouth cancers is high because it is usually detected late. This is unfortunate since people have a better chance of fighting the disease when it’s detected early.
During oral cancer awareness month, dentists, as well as oral and maxillofacial surgeons, remind patients of the importance of early detection. Your dentist is your best friend and the best way for you to detect mouth cancers early!
2. How common is Oral Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 54,000 people who have developed oral or oropharyngeal cancer in the U.S this year. Meanwhile, there are about 11,230 deaths caused by the disease this year alone. 
3. What are the symptoms?
Common signs and symptoms can include the following:
- Lip sores or mouth sores that don’t go away
- Red or white patches in parts of the mouth
- Lumps in parts of the mouth
- Feeling your teeth becoming loose or a change in the way your dentures fit
- Jaw swelling
- Feeling pain or numbness in the mouth
- Bleeding in the mouth
- Noticing your voice changing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Having sore throat
It is important to remember that having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t immediately mean you have oral and oropharyngeal cancers. The best way is still to talk with your doctor. You may schedule regular oral cancer examinations with your dentist or an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
Equally important to know is that even if you don’t experience these signs and symptoms, you may still see your dentist for routine screenings.
4. Who is at risk?
There can be many factors for developing cancer of the mouth. But, people who have certain lifestyle habits may be more at risk of developing the disease.
According to the website of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, if you are a heavy drinker or heavy smoker your chances of developing the disease are higher than normal. Using tobacco and consuming alcohol together can give you an even greater risk.  Excessive use of tobacco products is also one of the leading risk factors for other head and neck cancers.
Another risk factor is too much sun exposure because of ultraviolet radiation. There are also cases where the human papillomavirus 16 (HPV) caused oropharyngeal cancer in individuals. Most people who develop an oral infection due to HPV usually clear the virus and don’t go on to develop cancer. But, there are about 1% of these people who carry the virus dormant for years before they develop mouth cancer.
Gender can also be a risk factor for developing this type of cancer. The American Cancer Society, says that men are more likely to have cancer in the oral cavity and pharynx compared to women. There are around 38,700 new cases for men and 15,300 new cases for women for this year alone.
Another risk factor is age. Most patients with mouth cancer are older than 55. Yet, the number of younger people developing the disease is also increasing in recent years. This is specifically for those linked with developing an HPV infection.
A person’s weight and eating patterns can also be risk factors. Being overweight or having poor nutrition are linked to the incidence of oropharyngeal cancer. Lastly, a person’s inherited defects in genetic syndromes can also contribute to them developing oral cancer.
5. Can we prevent developing mouth cancers?
Mouth cancers are preventable and treatable, so it is important for us to detect and treat them early. You can help prevent oral cancer by avoiding the risk factors associated with it.
Don’t expose yourself too much to the sun, and use sunscreen when needed. Avoid using tobacco and limit your alcohol intake. It can also help if you maintain a normal weight and develop good eating habits. Mouth cancers and other health problems can be reduced. So, ensure that you eat a well-balanced diet composed of fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables.
Another way to help prevent developing mouth cancers is to do a self-exam or ask your oral health professional to do one for you.
How to do a self-exam
You can do a self-exam by checking your entire mouth for any unusual changes. With the use of a mirror and bright lighting, tilt your head back to check the roof of your mouth. Next, gently pull your cheeks to see the inside surface of your cheeks and gums. Then, you can pull out your tongue to check its surfaces, and try to feel for any unusual lumps on your neck and mouth areas. Make sure to always call your dentist if you notice any odd changes. Your dentist will be able to take a more comprehensive checkup of your mouth cavity.
6. How are mouth cancers treated?
Mouth cancers and oropharyngeal cancers can be treated like other head and neck cancers. Their treatment can vary based on what stage they are in and where the cancer is located. Treatment can be through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
There are also newer treatment options available. For example, intra-arterial chemotherapy is done by injecting drugs into the arteries associated with oral cancer. Intralesional chemotherapy is the procedure of injecting drugs into the tumor. 
To know more information about oral cancer and oral cancer awareness month, you may visit the Oral Cancer Foundation’s website.
Early Detection is Key!
April is oral awareness month! If you are thinking about getting an oral cancer examination, Sage Dental and Spa offers oral cancer screenings for patients in Wall Township, NJ! Call us and book your appointment today!