The Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings

Oral cancer awareness is relatively low among Americans, but here’s a sobering fact that should make all of us want to be more aware of this disease: one person dies from oral cancer every hour.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. We’re using this health observation to share information you and your family should know about this form of cancer that The Oral Cancer Foundation says more than 48,000 Americans are diagnosed with annually.

About 75 percent of all head and neck cancers begin in the oral cavity. Although it is helpful for everyone to know the risk factors, it is also wise to maintain routine checkups with your periodontist because the dental community is the initial line of defense when it comes to early detection.

We perform screenings at every new patient visit and during comprehensive examinations. We hope that identifying oral cancer in its early stages increases treatment success. Call us for an appointment if you notice any of the following:

  • Lesions of the mouth, especially if they are whitish, red or a combination of those colors. These often are precancerous.
  • Lesions that appear on the gums. This often indicates that cancer exists elsewhere in the body.
  • A sore that won’t heal.
  • If you notice a lesion in your mouth, don’t wait for it to grow larger. See your periodontist for a biopsy and a recommended course of action.
  • A lump or thickening of the skin or lining of your mouth.
  • Difficult or painful swallowing or chewing.
  • Tongue pain.
  • Jaw pain or stiffness.

High risk areas are floor of the mouth, sides of the tongue and under the tongue. This means that these lesions can hide.

The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Ends Results program reports that 30 percent of oral cancers start in the tongue, 17 percent in the lip, and 14 percent in the floor of the mouth. More than 60 percent of oral cancers show up in these high risk areas.

Historically, the bulk of oral cancers—75 percent—are related to alcohol and tobacco use, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation. But those statistics are changing.

“Current research indicates that HPV positive disease is rapidly changing these ratios and age groups,” according to The Oral Cancer Foundation. “Younger nonsmoking patients under the age of 50 are the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population.

HPV infects the epithelial cells of skin and mucosa, such as the mouth interior, throat, tongue and tonsils.

We invite you to visit The Oral Cancer Foundation’s website to learn more about the risk factors. Please call us to schedule an appointment if you would like to learn more about early detection and screening.

Meet Dr. D

Dr. David DiGiallorenzo received his training at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of Periodontics and Periodontal Prosthesis in the early 1990s. His training included prosthodontics, orthodontics, periodontics, and advanced oral reconstructive techniques, including oral implantology.

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