oral cancer the importance of early detection

You’re probably aware of the importance of mammograms in detecting breast cancer. If you’re a man, you’re likely encouraged to be screened for prostate cancer.

But when was the last time you were checked for oral cancer? 

Early detection is vital in being able to successfully treat oral cancer, and as your ear, nose and throat doctor  in Raleigh, we’re in a unique position to provide the expertise and help you need. 

We’ll take a closer look at the causes of oral cancer, who is at risk, and how a simple oral cancer exam can detect it when it is at its most treatable stages.

What Is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer is cancer that develops in any part of the mouth, lips, or the back part of the throat (oropharynx). 

Each year, an estimated 30,000 Americans – most over 60 years old—are diagnosed with oral cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. 

In addition, oral cancer kills more Americans than cervical cancer, malignant melanoma or Hodgkin’s disease.

The reason oral cancer has such a high death rate is not because it is hard to discover, but that it is usually not detected until the cancer has reached an advanced stage. However, if it is diagnosed in its early stages, the survival rate is better than that of most cancers.

Cancers that affect the oral cavity can cause tumors and growths on the lips, the gums, the tongue and the mouth.

Oropharynx cancer affects the back part of the throat. This is the part that is visible when you open your mouth. It includes not only the soft palate, but also the tonsils and the base of the tongue.

In addition, most people are older than 40 when oral cancer is discovered. However, it is now occurring more frequently in younger people. This is likely due to exposure to a certain strain of HPV.

It’s also important to be aware that even “smokeless” chewing tobacco can lead to oral cancer, and these should not be considered as a “safe” alternative to cigarettes.

Who Is at Risk of Developing Oral Cancer?

While anyone can develop cancer at any age, those at highest risk for developing oral cancer are:

  • Those over 40 years old
  • Those who use tobacco products – including cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff
  • Those with heavy alcohol use
  • Those who use alcohol and tobacco –  these create a greater risk combined than by using either one alone
  • Anyone with a family history of oral cancer
  • Those with extensive sun exposure, which increases the of developing lip cancer
  • Those who have a diet low in fruits and vegetables

There’s also a connection between oral cancer and HPV.

There are more than 100 kinds of HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Certain strains of HPV can cause mouth and throat cancers. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 70 percent of mouth and throat cancers are caused by HPV.

What Are Oral Cancer Symptoms?

Following are some signs of oral cancer:

  • White or red patches in the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loose teeth
  • Numbness of lower lip
  • Problems moving the jaw or tongue
  • A consistent feeling that something is stuck in the throat
  • A sore, irritation, or lump in the mouth, lip, or throat

If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to be evaluated by one of our physicians. One of the things that makes oral cancer challenging to pinpoint is that other health problems may also cause similar symptoms. That’s why an ear, nose and throat doctor in Raleigh can help.

What Is Involved in Oral Cancer Treatment?

Every case is unique, and depending upon what your oral cancer doctor prescribes, treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

How can I reduce my risk of developing head and neck cancers?

If you smoke or use smokeless tobacco products, quit. We can help you find effective strategies to stop. This can dramatically reduce your risk of developing oral cancer. 

Avoiding HPV  infections can also reduce your risk. Research is ongoing as to whether or not HPV vaccines can be used as an effective preventative measure for oral cancer.

What Happens During an Oral Cancer Screening?

An oral cancer screening is simple, straightforward and painless. 

We’ll carefully examine your mouth and throat for lesions, as well as check for leukoplakia and erythroplakia. Leukoplakia is an abnormal, white patch of cells. Erythroplakia is an abnormal red patch of cells.

If not carefully monitored or treated, these lesions can develop into cancer.

If we discover a lesion in the mouth, we’ll take a small sample of tissue to examine it in order to determine if this is cancer or if it is at risk of developing into cancer. 

If you have questions about whether or not your health insurance will cover oral cancer screenings, we encourage you to speak to your representative. 

Raleigh Capitol ENT Is Your Partner in Early Oral Cancer Detection

A screening for oral cancer is simple, quick and can save your life. Talk to us if you have any of the risk factors associated with this disease, and we’ll help you be diligent about recognizing the signs and symptoms early, when they are most treatable. 

For decades, we have been the premier ear, nose and throat doctors of choice for Raleigh, the Triangle and the surrounding regions. We invite you to schedule an appointment to experience this technologically advanced, compassionate care for yourself.