It’s disconcerting to think about, but oral cancer can happen to anyone. Despite this, not everyone is at equal risk; African American men have the highest risk of oral cancer— and many are not even aware of this fact. The first step in protecting your health, and the health of your friends and neighbors, is to understand the risks, signs, and symptoms of oral cancer.
What are the risks of oral cancer?
The primary risk factors of oral cancer are cigarette smoking and heavy alcohol use. Smoking cigarettes together with abundant alcohol use increases the risk quite a bit.
In fact, any tobacco use at all is a risk factor for oral cancer– including smokeless tobacco and pipe or cigar smoking. Health care professionals, including your Tigard dentist, Dr. Williams, are here to support patients on their journey to quitting tobacco, which greatly reduces your risk of oral cancer. Talk with our team at your next appointment so we can help provide resources.
In addition, there is a virus associated with oral cancer, called Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV. HPV is an extremely common virus– some estimates put the number of people with it at 90% of the US population– but for some patients it can place them at a greater risk of oral cancer as well.
Finally, oral cancer risk increases as you get older– usually after 40 years of age. If you have smoked or drank heavily at any point in your life, being aware of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer as you age is critical.
Symptoms of oral cancer
There are quite a few symptoms to be aware of. Mind you, many of these symptoms, if you have them, might not in themselves be oral cancer– we don’t want to cause a scare. However, being aware of changes in your oral health and having them checked out with your Tigard dentist is a critical piece of your preventative care.
Symptoms can include:
- white or red patches or sores in the mouth
- a lump or thick patch of skin on the soft tissues of your mouth, lips or throat
- trouble swallowing
- trouble moving your tongue or jaw
- development of numbness in your tongue or other parts of your mouth
- the feeling that something is “caught” in your throat
- unilateral ear pain without hearing loss
Again, noticing one or more of the above symptoms is by no means a diagnosis for oral cancer, but it certainly should be checked out by Dr. Williams.
Know your risks
African American men are the highest risk group of Americans for oral cancer and should take special measures both to monitor oral health and keep regular dental appointments– cancer caught early is the most treatable kind.
Drinking and smoking places you at the highest risk, and if you have these habits it’s important to be regularly screened for oral cancer.
Our team is highly training in oral cancer screening– we look for it every day, because we know that catching this cancer early can save a patient’s life. If you notice a change in your oral health, a screening by Dr. Williams is quick, painless, and could make a dramatic difference in the prognosis of a treatable disease!
Our clinic is dedicated to helping our patients achieve the best in oral health. We look forward to seeing you at your next visit with Dr. Williams, your Tigard dentist.