Regular Dental Screenings Can Assist in Early Detection of Cancer
We all know that early detection is one of the keys to successfully battling most forms of cancer. Studies have shown that cancer detected before is has metastasized - or spread - to other parts of the body better responds to the typical curative methods of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. And so, most of us are diligent about doing monthly breast self-examinations or getting that annual PSA test to detect the presence of prostate cancer.
Who is at Risk?
Still, many people - particularly those who are denture wearers - overlook the importance of regular dental screenings. Yet, an estimated 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year with only half of these surviving in excess of 5 years.
Not surprisingly, oral cancer is most prevalent in those with a history of tobacco use. People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol or those who have prolonged exposure to sunlight are also vulnerable to this disease. And, while oral cancer can occur at any age, it usually strikes those over the age of 50.
What can your Dentist Do?
As part of your regular dental exam, your dentist should check your gums and mouth tissue for any abnormalities. These abnormalities which often look similar to common ailments such as canker sores can actually be a pre-cancerous condition. At this stage, the affected tissue can be easily removed before the cancer actually has a chance to develop.
However, because these pre-cancerous conditions tend to mimic other more common - and less harmful - conditions, many people tend to ignore them. This problem is compounded by the fact that cancer cells often travel via the lymphatic system to other part of the body. As a result, by the time the cancer is actually detected, it has usually spread to other parts of the body.
What You can Do
As in most things concerning your health, there are steps you can take to help detect oral cancer. Here are just a few things to look for:
Sores on the face, neck, or mouth that do not heal within two weeks
Swelling, lumps or bumps on the lips, gums or other areas inside the mouth
White, red, or dark patches in the mouth
Frequent bleeding in the mouth
Numbness, loss of feeling, or pain in any area of the face, mouth or neck
You can also do a regular self-examination which includes gently pressing against the front and sides of the neck to detect the presence of lumps, examining your face in the mirror to detect any asymmetry which can indicate the presence of a tumor and regularly checking for any changes to the appearance of your skin.
You should keep in mind that the signs listed here are only a few of the symptoms associated with oral cancer and the self-examination steps listed here should not be substituted for regular examinations with a qualified healthcare professional.