April Is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

April Is Oral Cancer Awareness Month
Dr. Sujit Kumar Mohanty Dentist Glen Allen, Virginia

Dr. Mohanty grew up in Richmond. He graduated from the Collegiate Schools in 1984. He then earned his BA from the College of William & Mary in 1988. Dr. Mohanty followed his BA with graduate work at Columbia University prior to matriculating at MCV/VCU School of Dentistry. Upon completion of dental school, Dr. Mohanty... more

April is oral cancer awareness month, so a trip to your dentist is especially critical, as unlike most other cancers, most oral cancers are highly detectable, treatable, and curable, especially when identified in early stages.

Most people are aware of risks that contribute to oral cancer, such as dipping, or chewing tobacco, smoking, and alcohol. However, one of the most common risks comes from the HPV virus or human papillomavirus.

The HPV virus can be transmitted via intimate contact such as kissing or oral sex. While the HPV virus is very prevalent, it is also highly preventable through vaccines such as Gardasil, which is currently being offered to teenage girls and boys as they approach puberty. Most semi-annual dental exams should include a head and neck exam to detect any irregularities such as enlarged lymph nodes. An intraoral exam should include examination of the oral soft tissues for any unusual red or white looking lesions.

While most dental problems do not pose a risk to life, detection and treatment of oral cancer can save your life when you least expect it.

If you are deemed not at risk for oral cancer, it is up to your dental professional to provide oral cancer screening, or skip it. Most dentists will perform an examination, and some dentists could use additional testing methods to look for abnormal cell growth.

If you use any type of tobacco product, drink heavily, have a previous diagnosis of oral cancer, family history of oral cancer, or have experienced radiation or heavy UV exposure, you could be considered at risk for developing oral cancer. If you smoke or have a drinking problem, speak with your physician for help quitting.

Most people experience oral sores at one point or another. The overwhelming majority of these sores are not cancerous; however, if your dentist finds anything unusual about the sore, he or she will likely recommend additional testing to determine whether or not the sore is cancerous. 

If your dental professional finds anything that requires cancer testing, he or she may require additional follow-up visits to further examine the area and determine whether or not it has changed between visits. Your dentist may also perform or refer you for a biopsy procedure, where he or she removes a tissue sample and sends it for laboratory testing. Your dentist will receive the results, analyze them, and then discuss them with you.

It is estimated that 50,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with oral cancer every year, and oral cancer is twice as common in men than in women. 

In between dental visits, you can self-examine your mouth for any signs of unusual tissue or sores. Remove dentures if you have them, examine inside your lips, your cheeks, your tongue, the top of your mouth, and your gums. Feel for sores, lumps, and enlarged lymph nodes. Look for abnormal skin color, red or white patches, difficulty swallowing, and any other abnormalities. 

For more information about oral cancer screening and prevention, speak with your dentist at your next appointment.