Recently when Dr. Steven Paul, DDS MD, examined a 13-year-old patient who presented symptoms of oral disease, he realized that the young girl might have oral cancer. Dr. Paul, with his extensive dental experience of more than 20 years in General Dentistry as well as Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, detected oral cancer early and successfully treated her before cancer spread throughout her body.
The young patient was initially referred to Dr. Paul for the extraction and treatment of a severely infected tooth in the lower right jaw. Upon reviewing the radiographs and completing the patient’s examination, Dr. Paul suspected that something about the infected area wasn’t right. To confirm his diagnosis, he sent out a sample of the infected tissue to a pathologist even as he treated his patient’s infected tooth. The test sample turned up to show lesions, which Dr. Paul duly diagnosed as Ewing Sarcoma.
Upon further interactions with the patient, Dr. Paul discovered that the young girl was being treated for lesions by another doctor who hadn’t performed a biopsy. She also had two lesions on her leg and scalp.
Unfortunately, the misdiagnosis led to a diagnostic delay, which enabled cancer to spread to her mouth in 10 months.
Dr. Paul immediately formulated a treatment plan and treated the infected area. He also removed the cancerous sarcoma. Alongside receiving chemotherapy treatments and consultations from another set of oncologists, she was in remission.
In spite of several recurrences, the young lady was declared cancer-free after three years of her initial diagnosis.
Early Detection Is Important For Oral Cancer Treatment
The latest American Cancer Society (2019) statistics about oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers in the US paint a grave picture. Out of the approximate 53,000 people diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer, 10,860 patients will end up losing their lives to these cancers.
Early cancer detection is, therefore, extremely important as it can save lives by bolstering treatment outcomes. Statistics indicate that approximately 60% of cancer patients survived for another five years with early cancer detection and diagnosis.
Oral Cancer And Its Types
Treatment and preventative care for oral cancers are possible if people have basic awareness about oral cancer. Being aware enables people to recognize potential symptoms of cancer.
There are two types of oral cancer:
- Oral Cancer in the oral cavity – Lips, gums, teeth, the insides of cheeks and lips, floor/roof of the mouth, and the front two-thirds of the tongue.
- Oral Cancer in the oropharynx – Oropharynx (middle of the throat), the base of the tongue, and tonsils.
Symptoms Of Oral Cancer
You need to inform your dentist right away if the following symptoms persist for over two weeks:
- Patches (white or red)
- Small eroded area (Crust)
- Lump in the mouth
- A thickening rough spot
- Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue
- Difficulty speaking, swallowing, and chewing
- Unresolved irritation or soreness
- A change in the way your teeth come together upon opening the mouth
- A sore throat or hoarseness
- Your voice changes
- Feeling of something sticking in your throat
- Tenderness, numbness, pain in the lips or mouth
How Early Detection Of Oral Cancer Is Carried Out By Dentists
Your dentist will examine you thoroughly. You will be asked about any recent changes in your medical history, specifically new or unusual symptoms. Then you will be physically examined by your dentist to check your:
- Oral cavity – lips, gums, cheek lining, the front part of your tongue, as well as the roof and the floor of your mouth.
- Throat – tonsils, the back part of your tongue, the area where your tongue attaches to the bottom of the mouth and the soft part at the roof of your mouth.
- Neck and jaw for abnormalities or lumps.
What You Should Do If Cancer Is Suspected
Don’t panic, remain calm, and wait for your diagnosis. Even if something looks cancerous, it might not be so. Your dentist may refer you to a specialist or a pathologist for further testing. Re-examination may be prescribed in a week or two to note the healing pattern of questionable spots (if they appear.) Follow-up appointments might also be recommended.
Trust your specialists and work with them to create the best cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention scenarios.
Risks Of Oral Cancer And How To Avoid Them
Research shows that certain risks increase the likelihood of oral cancer, and certain conditions enhance its possibility. These are given below:
- The average age of oral cancer diagnosis is 62, according to the American Cancer Society.
- More than one-fourth of oral cancers affect patients less than 55.
- These cancers rarely occur in children.
- Men are more susceptible (twice more likely) to getting oral cancers as they age.
- Women are less likely (half) to be diagnosed with oral cancer compared to men.
- Unhealthy lifestyle habits, including over-drinking, improper diet, and smoking increase the chances of developing oral cancer. Try to stop or control these habits completely.
- Smokers and drinkers above the age of 50 are more susceptible to developing oral cancers.
- Strains of the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) increase the risk of developing throat cancers. The HPV virus affects the back of the mouth, especially in non-smoking adults. People who test positive for HPV usually get neck and head cancers. Such cancers grow in the throat at the base of the mouth or in the folds of the tonsils, and they can be challenging to detect.
- Get your entire neck and head examined for early cancer detection.
- An HPV vaccine may help prevent neck and head cancers. 11 to 12-year-olds should get vaccinated with two doses of HPV vaccine according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.) These vaccines may help prevent less common genital and cervical cancers.
Stay vigilant about the above risk factors.
Caution: Forewarned Is Forearmed
Often, cancers reoccur so get regular dental check-ups without fail.
Dr. Steven Paul, over his 20-year long dentistry career, has helped diagnose and heal many oral cancer patients. If you suspect oral cancer, visit his clinic to receive an accurate diagnosis of your oral ailment.
Dr. Steven Paul is an Oral and Maxillofacial surgeon. He surgically corrects oral deformities and the facial structures that surround the oral cavity like the jaw, neck, and head. Other dental services offered by Dr. Paul include dental implants, treatment for TMJ disorders, jaw defects, sleep apnea, tooth/bone loss, and impacted wisdom teeth.