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Do your patients know April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month? Dentists and other oral health professionals throughout the United States should take time to ensure their patients know the early signs and symptoms of this deadly disease.
Taking extra steps to educate those in your care can help them spot the warning signs of oral cancer before it’s too late.
Oral and or pharyngeal cancers are diagnosed almost 54,000 times every year in the U.S., according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. The good news is if oral cancer is diagnosed within its first five years of development, when it’s merely localized within the mouth and pharynx, survival rates hover around 83 percent – although these numbers are somewhat affected by the patient’s race.
More than 13,000 patients succumb to death from oral cancer each year, which is especially heartbreaking given its clear warning signs and available effective treatments.
After the five-year mark, survival rates plummet, especially for patients of color. White patients who have oral cancer for more than five years have a 66 percent survival rate, while black patients diagnosed with oral cancer of more than five years have a devastating 47 percent survival rate.
Furthermore, the cause of oral cancer greatly affects the patient’s outcome, especially if it’s related to HPV. Untreated or undiagnosed cases of oral HPV can lead to or pharyngeal cancer, but it’s more likely to develop if the patient also smokes or chews tobacco. Obviously, using tobacco alone greatly increases a patient’s likelihood of developing oral cancer as well.
So, what are the warning signs?
It’s important to make patients aware of the signs of oral cancer regardless of the month, but Oral Cancer Awareness Month is a gentle reminder to dental professionals about the importance of education. Remind your patients that persistent sores, constant pain (seemingly without a cause) and especially numbness of an area of the mouth or throat need to be examined as soon as possible by a dentist or doctor.
Other symptoms of oral and or pharyngeal cancer include:
- a reddened or white patch on the gums, mouth lining, tongue and tonsil
- swelling of the jaw
- a lump in the neck (which may also be a sign of lymphoma)
- pain in the jaw or teeth
Some of these symptoms can also indicate a gum or tooth infection, which explains why many patients — fearing the pain of extraction — put off seeking medical help. Impress upon patients the need for help as soon as they notice these changes.
Most do not realize how easy it is to jeopardize of their overall health, which is why it is so vital to educate and re-educate patients of every life stage about these risks. Proper information and access to updated materials can easily guide those in your care to make informed decisions for their complete oral health.