April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month! What a great opportunity to explain the role that our hygienist, Sarah, plays in this important screening. Oral cancer rates continue to rise. People who include smoking and drinking alcohol in their lifestyles are at a higher risk of developing this type of cancer, but oral cancer screening is of benefit to all of our patients at The Gorman Center for Fine Dentistry.
Sarah performs oral, head and neck exams at every hygiene visit. It has been reported that only 15-20 percent of dental offices perform these valuable exams. In addition to a visual and tactile exam, Sarah uses a light that enhances visualization of tissue abnormalities.
The Importance of Oral Cancer Awareness
According to a recent study by AAOMS, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, oral cancer takes the life of nearly one person every hour. The death rate for this cancer is high because this type of cancer is typically diagnosed late in its development. The ability to recognize it in its earliest stages decreases the severity of treatment as well as the negative long-term effects.
The top responsibilities of our dental community are:
- educating the public about the risk factors that lead to oral cancer
- recognizing early signs and symptoms
- developing patient awareness
Oral cancer is dentistry’s cancer, and therefore our area of responsibility. Dental visits at The Gorman Center are more than just cleanings, fillings, and crowns; dental examinations can save lives when they include an oral cancer screening.
Sometimes it is challenging to determine if there is abnormal tissue in the mouth worthy of concern, especially because the average patient can routinely have conditions in their mouth that look similar in appearance to pre-cancerous stages and very early cancers. The majority of soft tissue abnormalities are benign in nature. Canker sores, wounds from biting the inside of your cheek, and sore spots from prosthetic appliances or dentures all share similarities with cancerous lesions at first glance. The question then arises whether action should be taken or if the next step should be watching and waiting. Anything that does not resolve within a two week period on its own, with or without treatment, should undergo further examination or referral. These types of lesions include:
- persistent red or white patches in the soft tissues of the mouth
- unusual bleeding
- trouble swallowing
- unilateral earaches
To be proactive in your own fight against oral cancer, you can take five minutes a month to check your gums, tongue, and lips for any signs. The Oral Cancer Foundation website is dedicated to the cause, including a video about how to self-screen for oral cancer and a written step-by-step guide at www.checkyourmouth.org.
The Oral Cancer Foundation has made it their goal to
initiate an effort within the dental community to aggressively screen all of the patients who visit their practices (OCF). They are also launching a public awareness campaign:
“This campaign is intended to drive public awareness of oral cancer, and to instill in the public’s mind the need for an annual screening for this disease. One only has to look at the impact of the annual PAP smear, mammogram, and prostate exam, to see how effectively an aware and involved public can contribute to early detection, when coupled with a motivated medical community. The dental community needs to assume this same leadership role if oral cancer is to be brought down from its undeserved high ranking as a killer.” (OCF)
As a population, we have found the most success fighting cancers with increased awareness and aggressive campaigns regarding early detection. It has become normal to get a PAP smear annually for cervical cancer, a mammogram to check for breast cancer, and PSA and digital exams for prostate cancer detection. With increased public awareness regarding the importance of detecting cancers in their earliest forms, these efforts for screening have been made possible in combination with education or technologies needed for conducting the exams. The same should be for oral cancer, for which is actually easier to screen because the procedure does not require an invasive technique. There is no pain or discomfort, and it is inexpensive to be examined.
We’re Here to Help with Oral Cancer Awareness
Carry out self-examination and partner with Dr. Gorman to help prevent this disease. Also, spread the word about oral cancer to family and friends of the importance of such heads-up awareness. It can truly be a life-changer!