Posts for tag: oral cancer
With college, a full-time job and an upcoming wedding to plan, Brooke Vitense had the hectic life of an average young woman in her twenties. But a chance discovery one morning would completely upend her normal life.
That morning Brook noticed white spots on the underside of her tongue while brushing her teeth. Not long after, she pointed out the spots to her dentist during her regular dental checkup. He recommended having the spots biopsied, just to be safe. She needed a wisdom tooth removed, so she scheduled the biopsy with her oral surgeon to coincide with the tooth extraction.
She soon forgot about the biopsy — until her dentist contacted her about the results. The lesions were pre-cancerous: he recommended she have them and a portion of her tongue removed surgically as soon as possible.
She underwent the procedure, but that wasn't the end of her ordeal. The follow-up pathology report indicated cancerous cells in the tissue excised during the procedure. To ensure elimination of any remaining cancerous cells they would need to remove more of her tongue as well as the lymph nodes from her neck.
Brooke survived her cancer experience and has since resumed her life. Her story, though, highlights some important facts about oral cancer.
Oral cancer is life-threatening. Although cases of oral cancer are rarer than other types of malignancies, the survival rate is low (50%). This is because lesions or other abnormalities are often dismissed as simple sores. Like any cancer, the earlier it's detected and treated, the better the chances for survival.
Anyone of any age can develop oral cancer. While most cases occur in older adults, young and otherwise healthy people like Brooke are not immune. It's important for everyone to make healthy lifestyle choices (good oral hygiene and nutrition, moderate alcohol use and avoidance of tobacco) and see a dentist whenever you see an abnormal sore or spot in your mouth.
Regular dental checkups are crucial for early detection. Had Brooke not seen her dentist soon after discovering the spots on her tongue, her survivability could have been drastically lower. Regular dental visits (and cancer screenings if you're at high risk) could mean all the difference in the world.
If you would like more information on the signs and treatment of oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can watch Brooke's interview by visiting How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life
A half million people are diagnosed every year with oral cancer. While other cancers are more prevalent, oral cancer is among the most dangerous with only a fifty percent five-year survival rate.
A major reason for this low rate is because this fast growing cancer is difficult to detect early — diagnosis comes far too often after the disease has already well advanced. In an effort to detect cancer earlier many dentists visually screen for oral abnormalities during checkups, especially patients over fifty, tobacco or heavy alcohol users, patients with a family history of cancer or a medical history of exposure to the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, HPV-16.
If they detect an abnormality, the dentist often refers the patient to an oral surgeon or other specialist for a possible biopsy. In this procedure the surgeon removes a sample of the abnormal tissue, which is then examined microscopically for cancer cells. A biopsy remains the most effective way to diagnose oral cancer.
Because of the disease's aggressive nature, many dentists lean to the side of caution when referring patients for biopsy. As a result 90% of oral biopsies reveal no cancer. Reducing the number of biopsy referrals is highly desirable, especially for the patient undergoing the procedure. Tissue samples tend to be large to ensure complete detection of any cancer cells. Depending on the size and location of the sample, there may be a risk for loss of function or disfigurement.
A new screening tool using a sample of a patient's saliva could help reduce the number of biopsy referrals. Besides DNA, saliva also contains dormant genes called biomarkers that activate in response to the presence of a specific disease. This particular saliva test identifies those biomarkers for oral cancer if they're present.
A sample with a low score of biomarkers indicates no cancer present (with a statistical confidence of 99%). A medium or high score indicates cancer may be present, but only a biopsy can determine for sure. Using this test, dentists might be able to reduce the number of biopsy referrals and instead be able to employ watchful waiting in certain cases. Because of its simplicity and non-invasiveness, saliva screening could help identify oral cancer earlier.
A third of people treated for cancer develop adverse side effects within their mouth. But while these effects can be devastating to teeth and gums, there are ways to minimize the damage.
Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation work by destroying cancer cells. Unfortunately, they may also destroy normal cells. The accumulation of this “collateral damage” ultimately affects uninvolved areas and organ systems of the body. Chemotherapy, for example, can interrupt bone marrow blood cell formation and decrease the body's ability to fight infection.
These ripple effects can eventually reach the mouth. It's not uncommon for cancer patients to develop mouth sores or see an increase in tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The treatments may also inhibit saliva flow: because saliva neutralizes acid and provides other benefits that lower disease risk, dental disease is more likely to develop when the salivary flow is reduced.
The first step to minimizing these effects is to improve oral health before cancer treatment begins. An unhealthy mouth vastly increases the chances for problems during treatment. Cooperating with your cancer physicians, we should attempt to treat any diseases present as soon as possible.
During cancer treatment we should also monitor your oral health and intervene when appropriate. If at all possible, you should continue regular dental visits for cleaning and checkups, and more so if conditions warrant. We can also protect your teeth and gums with protective measures like antibacterial mouth rinses, saliva stimulation or high-potency fluoride applications for your enamel.
What's most important, though, is what you can do for yourself to care for your mouth during the treatment period. Be sure to brush daily with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste. You can use a weak solution of one-quarter teaspoon each of salt and baking soda to a quart of warm water to rinse your mouth and soothe any sores. And be sure to drink plenty of water to reduce dry mouth.
While you're waging your battle against cancer, stay vigilant about your teeth and gums. Taking care of them will ensure that after you've won your war against this malignant foe your mouth will be healthy too.
If you would like more information on taking care of your teeth and gums during cancer treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Your regular dental checkups should periodically include an important screening for oral cancer, especially as you grow older. Although oral cancers make up less than 3% of all other types, they’re among the most deadly with a 58% survival rate after five years.
Besides hereditary factors, oral cancer is strongly linked to tobacco use, alcohol abuse or diets low in fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s also a greater concern as we age: 90% of new cases of oral cancer occur in people over the age of 40, heightening the need for regular screenings. These screenings become all the more important because many early sores or lesions can mimic other conditions like canker sores — without early detection, the disease could already be in advanced stages when it’s diagnosed.
An oral screening for cancer involves both sight and touch. We’ll first look for any suspicious lesions and red or white patches in the soft tissues of the face, neck, lips and mouth. We’ll then feel for any abnormal lumps on the mouth floor, the sides of the neck and in gland locations. We’ll also examine all sides of the tongue including underneath, as well as the tissues lining the back of your throat.
If we notice anything that’s concerning we may then perform a biopsy by removing a small bit of the suspicious tissue and have it examined microscopically for the presence of cancer cells. We may also remove any lesions deemed pre-cancerous as an added precaution against possible cancer development.
The American Cancer Society recommends an oral cancer screening annually for people forty years or older and every three years for people between the ages of 20 and 39. Even better, we recommend all adults undergo a screening every year. This, along with ending tobacco use and other lifestyle and dietary changes, will greatly improve your chances of remaining free of oral cancer.
If you would like more information on detecting and treating oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Oral cancer is a serious health problem, responsible for the death of about one person every hour, every day in the United States. It was once thought that folks over 40 were chiefly at risk for the disease. If present trends continue, however, younger people may soon form the majority of oral cancer patients. So, no matter who you are, it makes sense to recognize the risk factors, and find out what you can do to reduce your chances of getting the disease.
As in many other diseases, genetic factors play a role in determining whether an individual will develop oral cancer. At present, there's nothing we can do about these inborn traits. But there are several choices we can make that will lessen our risk of oral cancer. Most of these risky behaviors are associated with other types of cancer as well.
Moderate to heavy drinkers, and users of tobacco products of all types, are as much as 9 times more likely to develop the disease than non-users. Chronic exposure to the sun has long been associated with the development of cancers of the lip. And, because the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) can lead to oral cancer, unsafe sexual behavior is a factor that's fast becoming a primary cause of the disease.
So if you need another reason to quit smoking, stop drinking excessively, wear sunscreen and practice safe sex — consider this your warning. But there's still more you can do to reduce your risk for oral cancer, and improve your general health as well.
Eating a plant-based, whole food diet doesn't just reduce your risk of getting oral cancer — it also makes you less likely to develop many other cancers, and various chronic conditions like heart disease. The exact mechanisms by which this happens aren't completely understood, but its effects have been documented in numerous studies.
Avoiding certain chemicals, like the nitrites often found in preserved foods, can reduce cancer risk. And the antioxidants you get by eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help protect your body from cancer-causing substances.
Finally, don't ignore regular cancer screenings. The early signs of oral cancer are difficult for many people to distinguish from common mouth sores — but we are trained to identify possible problem areas, and can schedule further tests if needed. You can get an oral cancer screening (a fast and painless procedure) at your regular dental checkup. And you always get your checkups on time — don't you?
If you have concerns about oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Oral Cancer” and “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”