Oral cancer is considered the sixth most common cancer in the world and has a fairly high mortality rate. But at the same time, residents of Encino and elsewhere and their caregivers should be advised that the outcome can often be greatly improved if it is detected and treated early.
The team at Accredited Home Care is happy to encourage people to seek treatment from their health provider or even an expert in oral health, which can include a dentist since there’s often some overlap between physicians and dental health professionals.
The American Academy of Oral Medicine recommends going for a check-up with either health professional as an especially helpful step if or when someone begins to show some of the following symptoms:
- Soreness or irritation that doesn’t go away (a rule of thumb is 2-3 weeks)
- Red or white patches that are painful, tender or numb in the lips and mouth
- Lumps, thicker tissue or areas that look and feel differently.
- Difficulty talking, chewing, or moving jaw and tongue
- Different feelings when teeth/jaw comes together
Although these symptoms individually can all be part of other combinations of health conditions, if some or all of them are displayed, it’s worth a professional examination.
Why is this important?
According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s fairly common for lesions to become cancerous, and of the cancerous types, 90 percent are squamous cell carcinoma, which is especially dangerous.
The NIH says about 37,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year, and about 91,200 people are now living with these cancers.
Each year, about 8,000 people die of these types of cancers. But at the same time, the NIH emphasizes that treatment and early detection helps dramatically.
For instance, the five-year survival rate is as low as 20 percent for people whose cancer diagnosed later in the process. But oral cancer detected early has a 75 percent survival rate over five years.
In seniors, however, the risk is a little higher – the Journal of Clinical Ontology said the 75 percent figure is for all ages, but seniors over age70 have a 55 percent survival rate after only two years.
Interestingly, various treatment methods, from major neck dissection to less invasive or less aggressive procedures, don’t drastically change the survival rate for people over 70.
Medical experts say lowering the risk of oral health cancer goes a long way, no matter the age. Most experts identify alcohol and tobacco use as the most significant factors, especially in creating pre-cancerous lesions.
Tobacco use could include cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or smokeless tobacco since all of these involve putting an item in one’s mouth. Even though cigar users aren’t encouraged to inhale and smokeless tobacco users are encouraged to spit, not swallow, some tobacco product still comes into contact with tissue of the mouth, jaw, and tongue.
For someone who has been smoking for years, this means that cigarettes and cigarette smoking may start to affect tissue over time, not just the mouth.
Likewise, significant concentrations of alcohol can also build up in the mouth and body over time, and increase the likelihood of cancer or pre-cancerous tissue.
Cancer.net said tobacco use is by far the largest contributor to oral health cancer. As high as 85 percent of neck and head cancers are linked to tobacco use. Smokeless tobacco use has a 50 percent increase in the risk of cancers of the gums, cheeks or other mouth tissue. Second-hand smoke also can impact risk factors, as can a combination of tobacco and alcohol.
Beyond these two risk factors, other possible risk factors for oral cancers can include:
- Prolonged sun exposure
- Human papillomavirus
- Gender (men are more likely than women to be diagnosed)
- Poor oral health
- Poor diet/nutrition, such as deficiencies of Vitamin A, vegetables or fruits
- Race (African-American men have a higher rate)
How to help
This month is a perfect time to learn more: April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, an opportunity for you, a family member or a loved one to look into resources if you’re concerned about oral cancer, especially those who are elderly.
Some steps that can be taken include regular visits to a general health/family provider and a dental provider. Regular dental visits can improve oral health. This can even include making sure someone’s dentures fit properly. Dentures that don’t fit can cause discomfort, irritation and even change how food is chewed.
Encouraging someone to stop drinking alcohol or quitting smoking can be a good way to boost their health all around.
The National Institutes of Health also want people to know that oral health and treatment has changed significantly even in the last decade.
Detection methods have also improved – medical officials are able to see more details and they can also watch lesions over time.
There are also less invasive methods — traditionally cancerous tissue was removed, which could be painful and disfiguring, but now radiation therapy can target certain areas more precisely.