Oral cancer includes cancers that occur in the mouth (tongue cancer, salivary gland cancer, mucosal soft tissues cancers), in the back of the mouth (in the tonsil region and base of the tongue), and on the exterior of the lips. While often thought of as a rare type of cancer, in 2022, approximately 54,000 Americans will develop oral cancer. That translates to 145 new diagnoses every day. Sadly, one person will die from oral cancer every hour of every day. If you include throat cancer in this category, you can add 12,000 more diagnoses to the annual tally. So, needless to say, oral cancer is prevalent.
There are two distinct pathways by which most people develop oral cancer: long-term tobacco and alcohol use and exposure to the HPV-16 (human papillomavirus version 16). A small percentage of individuals, less than 10%, get oral cancer from no identifiable cause. There is an 80-90% survival rate when discovered in the early stages. The problem with detecting oral cancer early enough is that there isn’t a national program for opportunistic screenings.
As part of an effort to raise awareness, the Check Your Mouth campaign was initiated. Unlike other types of cancers, oral cancer is something that you can regularly check for yourself. While a self-exam might not be 100% comprehensive and capable of detecting all oral cancers, there are many signs you can look for and take proactive measures to have a medical professional exam any concerns you may encounter during your self-exams.
A self-exam can be completed in 15 minutes and should be done once a month. Take a look at the video below to learn how. And in honor of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, share this valuable information with your friends and family.
If you ever have any concerns or questions, ask Dr. Steve or Dr. Blake at your next appointment.
In addition to your physical self-exam, pay attention to any of the following symptoms:
- a sore throat or feeling that something is caught in your throat
- difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking
- difficulty moving your jaw or tongue
- swelling of your jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
- numbness in your tongue or other areas in your mouth
- ear pain