It’s April and you know what that means? Well you probably don’t, but April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Over 51,000 people are diagnosed with cancers of the mouth, throat, tonsils and tongue each year (per mouthhealthy.org). I myself, perform an oral cancer screening on every patient I see, every patient/every visit, no matter if they are a non-smoker or if they are 12 years old. Cancer doesn’t discriminate! Given that people are not visiting dental offices during COVID I want to help make you aware of screening yourself at home. I want to make sure you know what to look for when looking in your own mouth or the mouth of someone you love. This article is a way for me to help raise awareness on the importance of performing monthly self-exams.
An estimated 25 percent of oral cancer patients have no known risk factors. However, here are a few risk factors to be thinking of when it comes to oral cancer: Infection from the sexually transmitted HPV16 virus is linked to multiple oral cancers. You are 30 times more likely to get oral cancer if you have HPV. HPV is now associated with approximately 9,000 cases of head and neck cancer (specifically at the back of the tongue, in or around the tonsils) according to the CDC. Prolonged sun or tanning bed exposure increases risk for lip cancer. Smokeless tobacco or vaping is not a safe alternative to cigarettes – users face a 400 percent greater chance of oral cancer than non-users (per mouthhealthy.org).
Here are a few tips to Perform a Self-Exam……once a month!!
- Use a bright light and a mirror
- Remove any dentures/partials
- Look and feel inside the lips and the front of your gums
- Tilt your head back to inspect and feel the roof of your mouth
- Pull the cheek out and check the inside surface as well as the back of the gums
- Stick/pull out your tongue and look at all the surfaces and sides of it including the base of the tongue
- Look at the soft palate, back of the throat, and tonsil region
- Feel both sides of the neck including under the lower jaw for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands)
What you should be looking out for:
- Red OR White patches on the gums, tongue, tonsils or lining of the mouth
- Red AND white patches (to be clear you can get patches with one or both colors)
- A sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal
- Sores that fail to heal and bleed easily
- Abnormal lumps or thickening of tissue
- A mass or lump in the neck
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
- Swelling of the jaw
- Loose teeth or dentures that no longer fit well
When it comes to your health, your mouth is one of your body’s most important early warning systems.
I want to help educate the public about the causes, symptoms and treatments for oral, head and neck cancer. I encourage you to conduct monthly oral cancer self-exams to look and feel inside your mouth for suspicious sores, bumps, growths and feel the jaw and neck for lumps. Consult a dentist if you find or experience one or more of these symptoms and it’s persistent longer then 2-3 weeks and not resolving!
Don’t ignore any suspicious lumps, growths, bumps, or sores. If you find something, don’t panic. Make an appointment for a dental examination, let a dental provider take a look and evaluate the area. Performing a self-examination regularly increases the likelihood of identifying changes or new growths early. Remember the earlier the cancer is detected, the easier the treatment and the greater the chance of recovery.