Oral Cancer Awareness Month

April marks Oral Cancer Awareness Month, highlighting the prevalence of oral and oropharyngeal cancers, which constitute the majority of head and neck cancers. In the United States alone, an estimated 58,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2024, reflecting a concerning trend of increasing incidence over the past decade.

What Causes Oral Cancer?

Two primary factors have been identified as contributors to the development of oral and oropharyngeal cancers. Historically, alcohol consumption and smoking have been recognized as significant risk factors. In more recent years, the HPV-16 virus (human papillomavirus type 16) has emerged as another prominent cause, notably since 1999. This viral etiology is also implicated in a considerable percentage of cervical cancers in women. However, approximately ten percent of cases remain without a clear cause, suggesting the potential involvement of genetic predispositions or other yet unidentified risk factors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 70% of oropharyngeal cancers, along with a smaller portion of other head and neck cancers, may be attributable to HPV infection. Recognizing this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently endorsed the HPV vaccine as a preventive measure against this form of cancer.

Detecting oral cancer in its early stages is critical for successful treatment outcomes. Signs of concern within the mouth include abnormal patches, such as erythroplakia (red ulcerations) or leukoplakia (white plaques), with the former being more likely to progress to cancer. Other symptoms include lumps, soreness, difficulty swallowing, ear pain, jaw or tongue mobility issues, hoarseness, numbness, or jaw swelling affecting denture fit. Persistent symptoms lasting more than two weeks warrant prompt examination and evaluation, possibly including a biopsy.

How Can The Dentist Help Prevent and/or Detect Oral Cancer?

In addition to raising awareness about oral cancer’s prevalence and risk factors, Oral Cancer Awareness Month emphasizes the importance of regular dental check-ups as a crucial component of preventive healthcare. Dental visits provide an opportunity for thorough examinations by trained professionals who are skilled in detecting early signs of oral cancer that may otherwise go unnoticed. By incorporating routine oral cancer screenings into preventive care appointments, dentists can play a pivotal role in identifying abnormalities at their earliest stages, thus increasing the likelihood of successful treatment outcomes. Furthermore, dental professionals can offer guidance on lifestyle modifications and risk reduction strategies, empowering individuals to take proactive steps towards maintaining their oral health and reducing their risk of developing oral cancer. By prioritizing dental visits as part of their overall healthcare regimen, individuals can enhance their chances of early detection and intervention, ultimately promoting better oral health and well-being.

As part of all of our patient’s visits for preventive care of teeth cleaning and periodic examinations, both the hygienist and Dr. Gordon will perform an oral cancer screening of the mouth to check for any area that may not be normal in appearance. Early detection is imperative in achieving a successful outcome.

Call us: (913) 649-4042

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