Oral cancer is a particularly deadly form of cancer because most times, detection occurs at a late stage. Oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth, tongue, throat, and lips. When detected early, oral cancer has an 80-90% survival rate and treatment tends to be less disfiguring. Though considered a relatively rare cancer, doctors diagnose 115 new cases of oral cancer each day and one person dies each hour from oral cancer.
Certain lifestyle behaviors increase your risk of oral cancer. Tobacco use and alcohol use are among the biggest causes. Exposure to HPV (human papilloma virus), a sexually transmitted virus, is another common cause. Around 7% of cases have no known cause and doctors attribute them to a genetic predisposition for oral cancer.
While oral cancer can occur at any age, it most commonly strikes in people over forty, but younger people receive diagnoses earlier than ever due to the prevalence of HPV in the younger population.
Your Dentist’s Role
Your dentist is your first line of defense against oral cancer. At each preventative exam, your dentist should examine your mouth for any early signs of cancer or pre-cancerous lesions. If your dentist does not tell you that he or she is performing an oral cancer screening, ask to see if they offer one. This part of your exam is essential and may save your life.
When to Get an Oral Cancer Screening
Every patient should receive an oral cancer screening as part of their routine visit, but if you are over forty, have a history of tobacco or alcohol use, or if your family has a history of oral cancer, let your dentist know that you have one or more risk factors and they should remain extra cautious about any abnormal lesions they discover inside your mouth.
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