Today, 132 people will get the worst news of their lives. Today, 132 people in the United States will learn that they have oral cancer.

According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, 48,250 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year.

The good news is that people who are diagnosed with oral cancer in the early stages have an 80 to 90 percent survival rate. That survival rate drops to 57 percent within five years if the oral cancer is found in the late stages.

Our team at Bayou Dental Group hopes that none of you develop oral cancer, but if you do, we hope it’s found early. Just in case, we look for the warning signs when you come to our dentist office on Monroe, LA, for routine cleanings and exams.

But we also want you to know what to watch for and how you can reduce your risk of developing oral cancer.

Watch For The Signs

If you are between dental visits, we hope you will take a moment from time to time to examine the soft tissues of your mouth. This is where the early warning signs of oral cancer may be seen.

Those early signs are:

  • Discoloration of your soft tissues that are red, white, or both
  • Feeling hoarse for a prolonged period of time
  • Having a sore that does not heal within two weeks

Any of these is a reason to get checked by a medical professional.

The symptoms listed below are signs that you need to see a doctor as soon as possible, however:

  • Numbness in or around your mouth
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble moving your tongue or jaw
  • Having a sore under a denture that does not heal even after your dentures are adjusted
  • Ear pain on one side of your head
  • Feeling like something is stuck in your throat
  • Lumps in your mouth or neck

Be Proactive

There are some known causes of oral cancer, although you should be aware that the cause is unknown in 7 percent of oral cancer cases.

With that in mind, here are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer.

  • Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products

Tobacco is the leading cause of cancer in the United States, and it is far and away the leading cause of oral cancers. The University of California, San Francisco, found in one study that 80 percent of oral cancer patients were smokers.

Another study looked at the effects of smokeless tobacco and oral cancer. The researchers compared women living in rural North Carolina who used smokeless tobacco with women who did not use tobacco.

The smokeless tobacco users were 14 times more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer compared to women who did not. That rate was 50 times higher among women who had used smokeless tobacco for 25 years or more.

The results seem pretty clear, using tobacco raises your risk of developing oral cancer, and the longer you use it, the higher that risk grows.

  • Avoid or limit alcohol use

Having more than 15 alcohol drinks in one week also raises your risk of developing oral cancer.

And using alcohol and tobacco together makes your risk even higher. Alcohol will dry out the soft tissues of your mouth. This makes it easier for the chemicals in tobacco products (many of which are known carcinogens) to get into your soft tissues.

  • Get vaccinated

While rare, HPV —  HPV16, in particular — is a known cause of oral cancer.

In the United States, 80 percent of people will contract the HPV virus. For a vast majority of us, 99 percent, this will not cause any problems. Our bodies deal with the infections without us ever knowing.

But for the unlucky 1 percent, HPV16 can be deadly. Vaccines to prevent HPV exist, but they are only effective if they are given before a person has been exposed to the virus.

This is one of the reasons the National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends routine vaccines for females who are 11-12 years old. The committee also recommends vaccines for females 13-26 who have not already been vaccinated. Vaccines are also suggested for males 9-26 years old who have not been vaccinated.

Protect Yourself

Cancer is scary for people who get it and for their family and friends. There’s no way to eliminate your chances of having cancer, but you can take steps to reduce that risk.

Bayou Dental Group will check for signs of oral cancer during your routine visits. If you haven’t scheduled your next cleaning and examination, now would be a good time to do that. Use our online form or call 318-302-4236 to make your appointment.