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Oral Cancer

Oral cancer kills more people nationwide than either cervical cancer or skin cancer (melanoma), and only half of the patients diagnosed will survive more than five years. The most common risk factors are tobacco use, frequent, high quantity alcohol consumption, constant sunlight exposure, habitual cheek or lip biting, or poorly fitting dentures. Although 80 to 90 percent of oral cancers are found in people who use tobacco and/or drink alcohol excessively, 25 percent of oral cancers occur in people who have no risk factors at all.

Your dentist could very well be your number one ally in the fight against oral cancer. Statistics show that in about 10 percent of patients, a dentist notices a problem area even before the patient does. During a regular dental checkup, your dentist will examine your entire mouth, searching for a flat, painless, white or red spot or small sore. Other signs of oral cancer can include:

  • A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
  • A color change of the oral tissues
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust, or small, eroded area
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips

Two tests can determine if a trouble spot is cancerous. A brush biopsy is a painless test performed on areas that appear slightly suspicious. This test can detect potentially dangerous cells in the early stages of the disease. A scalpel biopsy, which requires local anesthesia, is usually performed on more suspicious areas.

Remember to schedule regular checkups for everyone in your family. Two visits per year are recommended to maintain good oral health. If, between visits, you notice any unusual changes in your mouth, call your dentist immediately. Together you and your dentist can fight and win the battle against oral cancer.

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