When many of us hear “cancer,” we immediately think of lung or breast cancer. But oral cancer is a growing concern, one that we take very seriously here at Dr. Lance Johnson Family Dentistry in Sherman, TX. April is Oral Cancer Month, and we have oral cancer screenings on our mind — have you had your oral cancer screening yet?
Here’s why we think screening for oral cancer is so important: More than 51,000 people have been diagnosed with oral cancer this year, and we expect that number may rise. We believe it’s crucial to heighten our clients’ awareness of oral cancer, risk factors, and warning signs. We’re eager to help you include oral cancer screening as part of your pain-free routine dental care. Consider us your ally when it comes to oral cancer prevention — and early detection.
Who’s at Risk for Oral Cancer?
While anyone can develop oral cancer, certain groups of the population are at higher risk than others — especially tobacco lovers. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that tobacco use is one of the greatest risk factors for all head and neck cancers, including oral cancer and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the throat).
The Dangers of Tobacco
Tobacco might be a comfortable habit, and one that’s hard to break, but it’s definitely worth breaking: tobacco is a serious enemy to the body.
- Nicotine, an addictive substance
- Cancer-causing agents, or carcinogens
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, tobacco use is linked to different types of cancer, and the cancer type is linked to the delivery system.
As you might have guessed, cigarettes are the No. 1 most popular form of tobacco — and that shows up in the statistics. According to the American Lung Association, cigarettes cause approximately 90% of all lung cancers — a stat we’re sure you’ve heard.
But did you know that smokers are also 10 times more likely to develop oral cancer than nonsmokers? And if that doesn’t scare you, smokers are also at higher risk for at least 12 other kinds of cancer — not surprising if you consider that cigarettes are formulated with more than 60 types of carcinogens.
Plus there’s the risk of secondhand smoke to loved ones. The CDC reports that exposure to secondhand smoke causes over 7,300 deaths from lung cancer among non-smokers.
Other sobering risks of secondhand smoke to household members include:
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Respiratory illness
- At-risk newborns with low birth weight
Whether it’s snuff, chew, dip, spit or dissolvable tobacco, any oral tobacco is a dangerous habit, linked to multiple cancers of the mouth, cheek, and gums. If that’s not enough to wean you off the tobacco, consider that these products are also notorious for causing tooth loss and gum disease, as well as destroying bone sockets around teeth.
Vaping and E-Cigarettes
Vaping and e-cigarettes are of special concern, as many teens and young adults are taking up the habit, thinking those devices are less harmful than cigarettes. But these delivery systems are proving to be just as deadly as regular cigarettes — contrary to what the advertising campaigns for these devices would have you believe. The science is grim, but the effects are clear: vaping and e-cigarettes are linked to cancer too.
That’s due to the toxic chemicals in the vape liquid, not to mention the heavy metals in the vape coil, which leaches into the vape liquid. These chemicals are breathed into the lungs of the typically young users, causing permanent tissue damage — which scientists believe leads to lung and oral cancers that may appear later in life.
HPV: The Unexpected Cancer Link
The CDC reports that HPV, or the Human Papilloma Virus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. And HPV is now known to cause cancers of the oropharynx (the very back of the throat, tonsils and base of tongue included). In fact, a full 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers in the U.S. are thought to have been caused by HPV. The really scary part? Many never even realize they’re infected, as the virus can be present with no symptoms at all.
How do you get HPV? Well, there are more than 100 types of HPV, and approximately 40 of these can pass to the mouth, throat and genitals from sexual contact. Scientists believe oral HPV is frequently transmitted to the mouth by oral sex. There’s nothing to be ashamed of with HPV: a very large percentage of the population is exposed to HPV. Most people’s bodies will “clear” the virus in a year or two, but HPV infection can linger in others’ systems.
HPV is insidious, taking its time, causing cancer years after initial HPV infection. Doctors also believe that additional factors, such as tobacco consumption, may combine with HPV to create an increased risk of cancer. Safe sex practices and minimizing partners can help prevent HPV. Regular testing for STIs in those who are sexually active is also a good idea.
It’s recommended that girls and boys ages 11 and 12 and up get the HPV vaccine before they have sexual relations and are vulnerable to HPV. The vaccine might help decrease overall transmission of the virus, and protect both boys and girls from different kinds of cancer, including oral.
Warning Signs of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer refers to cancer of the tissues of the mouth or throat. Warning signs can appear in the tongue, gums, tonsils, throat and various other parts of the mouth. Although men are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer, it’s certainly not just men, so the best practice is for everyone to have oral cancer screenings regularly.
Keep an eye out for any of these symptoms, and be sure to talk with your dentist or physician if you find any of these warning signs:
- raised red patches inside your mouth
- white or discolored patches inside your mouth
- a sense of something “stuck” in your throat
- unexplained weight loss
a hard time swallowing or chewing
- long-lasting sore throat
- hoarse voice
- any swelling in the mouth or neck
- difficulty moving tongue or jaw
- a lump anywhere in your mouth
unrelenting bad breath
What Happens During an Oral Cancer Screening?
As your dentists in Sherman, TX, we’re your first stop for regular oral cancer screenings — and it’s painless, so don’t worry one bit! There’s no prep necessary, and your oral cancer screening can be performed as part of a normal, routine dental appointment.
During your oral cancer screening, your dentist — gloved, of course! — will examine your mouth carefully for any signs of white or red patches or sores. Expect your dentist to also press on the tissues inside of your cheek and under your tongue to check for abnormalities or changes in thickness. Your dentist may also examine your neck and throat for any type of swelling or lumps.
Here at Dr. Lance Johnson Family Dentistry in Sherman, TX, we also take oral cancer screening one step further. We use a special oral cancer screening light that we shine into your mouth during your exam. This light is very useful: With it, healthy tissue appears dark, but abnormal tissue appears light or white. We can get a “deeper” look into the tissues, to catch cancer at the cellular level.
If there’s anything suspicious, we’ll schedule a follow-up in a few weeks to see if the abnormal tissue is still present. We’ll also see if the area has expanded or changed in any way.
We may also suggest a biopsy, which is the removal of a sample of cells in the affected area, to send to a lab to determine whether the abnormality is cancerous.
Trust us, it’s easy — and with oral cancer cases on the rise, it’s a smart thing to add to your routine preventative dental care. After all, you’re not just a pretty smile!
Take Advantage of Our April Oral Cancer Screening Special!
Already have a dental cleaning or other appointment scheduled in April? For just $20 this month, you can add an oral cancer screening to your exam. You can also make an appointment for a quick screening for the same price.
Just call our office at 903-893.2540 to book your appointment or add the screening to an existing April appointment.
We’re committed to keeping you and your family healthy and informed, not just during Oral Cancer Awareness Month, but for many, many years to come.
Dr. Lance Johnson Family Dentistry Brings Smiles to Sherman, Texas
Dr. Lance Johnson Family Dentistry in Sherman, Texas, is dedicated to providing you with exceptional, top-quality dental care. Our number-one priority is your comfort, and we go above and beyond to ensure your appointment is seamless and stress-free. Our welcoming and caring team sets us apart from the rest, and that special touch is apparent as soon as you step into our lobby. Our team is made up of qualified doctors, hygienists, and assistants who are always up to date on the latest techniques and dental technology. By attending continuing education classes every year, our staff remains current, confident, and ready to provide first-class service. As a fully digital, state-of-the-art office, we are proud to offer a comprehensive array of services, including general dentistry, cosmetic dentistry, orthodontics, dental implants, crown-in-a-day, and more! Your teeth and mouth are at the root of living a healthy life, so book your appointment today.