April is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and a great time to become aware of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer–one of the only types of cancer that is on the rise rather than the decline. This is mostly from lack of awareness. People often don’t talk about oral cancer, or get screened often enough. 30,000 Americans are diagnosed every year with oral cancer, and within the first year, the survival rate of oral cancer is 50%. It is really important to catch oral cancer early, because in the early stages it can be very treatable. Treating oral cancer in its more advanced state can cause chronic pain, and even facial disfigurement from the surgeries involved.
Your dentist should check for lumps and tissue changes at your regular dental exam (every six months). At your next visit, be sure to ask your dentist if this is a part of your visit, and ensure that the screening will be completed regularly. Dentists have been proven to “play a key role in diagnosing oral cancer” (see article here ). It is difficult to check your own mouth for irregularities as thoroughly as your dentist can, however, see here for an outline on how to check your mouth for cancer. As a reminder, the following can be signs of oral cancer:
- Any lump, sore, or ulcer that does not heal in 2 weeks
- A sore that bleeds and doesn’t heal in 2 weeks
- Patches that are red or white
- Pain in the mouth that does not heal in 2 weeks
- Ear pain
- Enlargement of thyroid or lymph nodes/external neck mass
- Trouble chewing/swallowing
- Sore throat that does not heal in 2 weeks
- Numbness or burning of the mouth
- Swelling or difficulty extending the tongue
- Skin rashes that suddenly appear
Be sure to maintain regular visits to your dental health professional, and if you have any of the above symptoms, talk them over with your dentist.