The word cancer strikes fear and dismay in most people, and it’s no different when the diagnosis is oral cancer. Nearly 37,000 Americans are diagnosed with this disease each year and about 8,000 succumb to it. You should know the risk factors and symptoms so that you can either avoid it completely, or catch it early enough that you’ll have the best chance of recovery.
Who is at risk?
Oral cancer is not contagious, but there are some activities that put you at higher risk for the disease. Both smoked and smokeless tobacco are linked to oral cancer, and the more you use tobacco the greater your risk becomes. Excessive alcohol consumption also increases your risk, and paired with tobacco use your risk is even higher. Sun exposure heightens your chances of developing cancer of the lip.
What are the symptoms?
Oral cancer patients may experience any of these signs of the disease:
- A sore in the mouth or throat that bleeds often and doesn’t heal within two weeks
- A thick area or lump in the cheek
- Patches in your mouth or on your lips that are red, white, or a mixture of the two
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty wearing your dentures
- A sore throat
- Tongue or mouth numbness
- Difficulty chewing, or moving your jaw or tongue
What should I do if I have symptoms?
If you notice any of these signs, visit your dentist right away to get screened for oral cancer. When diagnosed early, there is an 80 percent survival rate. Unfortunately many patients wait too long to see their dentist, and late-stage diagnosis is the reason for most oral cancer deaths.
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