Routine oral cancer screenings save lives.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, oral cancer patients have an 80 to 90 percent survival rate when the cancer is found in the early stages compared with only 36 percent in patients whose cancer has metastasized. That’s an important part of why Dr. Zeller performs an oral cancer screening as part of every exam.
“I know many of my patients visit me more often than they see their primary physician so I take all oral cancer screenings very seriously. I perform a visual exam to look for legions, ulcerations and pigmentation then gently feel the jaw, neck, glands and lymph nodes. Screenings are quick and painless but can absolutely save a life,” said Dr. Zeller.
Since April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a good time to highlight the importance of these regular screenings as well as review risk factors and symptoms.
The most common risk factors for oral cancer include:
• Tobacco use
• Heavy alcohol consumption
• Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
While men are twice as likely to get oral cancer and most people diagnosed are age 55 or older, those with HPV-related cancer tend to be younger and nonsmokers.
Oral cancer symptoms can include:
• Lump, rough spot, sore or irritation that doesn’t go away within two weeks
• Red, white or dark-colored patches
• Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
In addition, patients should be on the lookout for a change in the way their teeth fit together or difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving their tongue or jaw.
“I would also encourage everyone to check their own mouth periodically. Know what your mouth looks like normally so that you can detect any changes. Use a handheld mirror to check for bumps or sore spots – especially red, white, dark or speckled areas,” says Dr. Zeller. “The biggest danger areas are the floor of the mouth and sides of the tongue.”
The Oral Cancer Foundation suggests patients see their dentist if they have any lump that feels hard and fixed to the underlying tissues or an open sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal in 10 days.
Check out the ADA’s Mouth Healthy webpage on Oral Cancer for more information on symptoms, risk factors and prevention tips.