Oral cancer is the collective term used to describe the various cancers that affect the oral and oropharyngeal region. Some commonly known types are cancer of the mouth, tongue, tonsils, and throat. However, oral cancer can also affect the salivary glands, mucosal soft tissue, and lips. Over the last decade, the occurrence of oral cancer has been increasing at an alarming rate. In fact as of 2019, the Oral Cancer Foundation estimated that about 53,000 new cases would be diagnosed.
Oral cancer occurs in four stages:
- Stage 1: tumor is less than 2 cm and has not spread to the lymph nodes
- Stage 2: tumor is between 2-4 cm and has not spread to the lymph nodes
- Stage 3: either the tumor is greater than 4 cm and has not spread to the lymph nodes OR the tumor is any size, but it has spread to at least one lymph node
- Stage 4: tumor is any size and has spread to nearby tissues, lymph nodes, or other places in the body
Did You Know?
In most cases, early cases of oral cancer have an 80-90% survival rate. And because dentists can easily identify possible early signs, it is especially important to visit your local dentist every six months for a dental exam and oral cancer screening.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Am I at risk for oral cancer?
Oral cancer can affect anyone, but you may have an increased risk of developing oral cancer if you are over the age of 40, have consistently used tobacco or alcohol, or if you have been exposed to the HPV-16 (human papillomavirus version 16). The HPV-16 virus is also associated with cervical cancers. In rare cases, you may also have a genetic predisposition to oral cancer.
What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
Depending on the type of oral cancer, there can be a variety of symptoms present. Some possible symptoms of oral cancer can include, but are not limited to:
- Sores that won’t heal
- Any type of mass or growth
- Pain in the mouth, jaw, tongue, or ear
- Tissue discoloration
While these can be potential symptoms of oral cancer, they can also indicate other medical or dental issues as well. Therefore, it is recommended to schedule a consultation with your local dental office as soon as possible to determine the cause of your symptoms.
What to expect from Knoxville Smiles at Malone & Costa Dentistry when having an oral cancer screening?
An oral cancer screening is much like a regular dental examination. In fact, chances are you may have already been screened for oral cancer during past dental appointments. During an oral cancer screening, your dentist will examine the inside of your mouth, as well as the outer oral features for bumps, discolorations, swelling, or bleeding. In some cases, they may also use a special light that is intended to highlight damaged tissue.
It is important to note that oral cancer screenings are not diagnostic procedures, rather they are intended to determine if a diagnostic procedure is needed. This means that your dentist will be unable to diagnose cases of oral cancer and will instead refer you to a medical specialist if they suspect your symptoms could be caused by oral cancer. Your medical specialist may then perform diagnostic procedures such as a brush or tissue biopsy to determine if cancerous cells are present.