Oral Cancer Screenings in Middleboro, MA
Oral cancer may not get the same amount of attention that other types of cancer get, and you may not see as many Public Service Announcements (PSAs) about it, but that doesn't mean it's any less deadly. Oral cancer is estimated to be responsible for killing one person every hour, every day in the United States. While it may only account for a relatively small percentage of all cancers, oral cancer is more dangerous than generally known, because the cancer often isn’t detected until it has reached an advanced stage. The odds aren't favorable for these late discoveries; in fact, only about six in ten people will survive for more than five years after treatment.
If you could just walk into a clinic and get a simple test that would let you know if you have the early warning signs of the disease, would you do it? The great news is that there is such a test! Early detection increases survivability by as much as 80% in cases of oral cancer. Some experts estimate that it is even higher than that. So why hesitate any longer than you need to? Our oral cancer screenings in Middleboro, MA, are part of something you should be doing anyway: getting regular dental checkups.
Cancer is a scary word, but the more you know about it, the better able you will be to protect yourself and the ones you love. This is particularly true of oral cancer, which is very treatable if caught early. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of oral cancers are not caught until the late stages. You may think that if you are a non-smoker, particularly a young one, this topic is not of concern to you. If so, please think again.
While most oral cancer patients are smokers, the fastest-growing segment of newly diagnosed cases is young, non-smoking adults. The culprit is a particular strain of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S., with about 20 million Americans infected. In fact, it is estimated that at least half of all sexually active people will contract it during their lives. Most strains (and there are over 100) lead to symptoms no more serious than warts, and in many cases a person's own immune system can rid the body of the disease within two years. The strain known as HPV16, unfortunately, is different. By inserting its own DNA into human cells, the virus can cause a mutation that turns normal cells into malignant ones. You may already be aware that HPV16 has been linked to cervical cancer. We now know it is also responsible for many new cases of oral cancer.
As a part of regular checkups, our oral cancer examinations are quick and painless. Our doctors look to identify small changes in the lining tissues of the mouth, lips and tongue which may signify the early stages of this type of cancer. Mostly the screening is a visual and tactile (touch) examination. If any irregularities are noted, we can collect a small tissue sample for further testing in a laboratory.
Who's At Risk for Developing Oral Cancer?
You may be surprised to find out that oral cancer, which traditionally was thought of as a disease that only affects older people and still mostly affects those over 40, is actually quickly growing in younger demographics. Because the STD known as the human papilloma virus has become so widespread, many young patients are developing oral cancer as a side effect.
Of course it is important to keep in mind that other risk factors play a major role as well. If you're a moderate to heavy drinker, middle aged or older, or a long-time tobacco user, your chances of developing oral cancer are significantly higher than someone who doesn’t meet these criteria. Long-term exposure to the sun, which we have long known to cause skin cancer, is also associated with cancers of the lips as well. Of course, no matter how well you take care of yourself, sometimes genetic factors have a major impact on who gets the disease as well.
Even if you are in a low-risk group we can never stress enough how important it is to get regular checkups. Everyone thinks that it will never happen to them, but almost 50,000 people a year realize it can happen to them. Nobody is truly invincible, which is why it is essential to have oral cancer screenings early and often.
Our message of importance to pass along is that you have a great chance of surviving oral cancer if it is caught early. Let us provide you with an extra level of defense by screening you regularly. Simply come in for your regular cleanings, and our experienced hygienists and dentists make sure that your mouth is healthy with no signs of cancer.
Signs & Symptoms
Most of the lumps, bumps, and occasional sores you find in and around your mouth are completely harmless. But you should look out for changes such as white or red patches, ulcers and lumps anywhere in and around your face and neck that persist for more than a couple of weeks. A persistent sore throat or hoarseness is also cause for concern. Most oral cancers are “squamous” (scale-shaped) cell carcinomas. The sides of the tongue are the most common sites for these small lesions. Because the tongue has a rich blood supply and a direct connection to the lymphatic system (a part of our immune system), it's a site from which cancer can easily spread. The floor of the mouth under the tongue is the second most common site. Cancerous lesions on the lower lip, which are usually preceded by chronic sun exposure, are not uncommon.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Regular screening for oral cancer is one of the most important services provided to you at the dental office. Your regular dental checkup includes a visual and tactile (touch) examination for any signs of oral cancer or precancerous lesions in and around your mouth and throat. Anything that looks suspicious, may be analyzed with a routine procedure called a biopsy, in which a small amount of the suspicious tissue is sent to a laboratory for microscopic inspection. This is the best way to get a definitive diagnosis. Should the lesion turn out to be cancerous, the rest of the malignant tissue will be removed. It's possible that radiation and/or chemotherapy will be needed to eradicate the disease. As mentioned before, when treatment occurs early, the survival rates are excellent.
We Are Here to Help You Have a Healthy Life
Diligence in oral health should be considered just as important as going to the doctor every year. Oral cancer screenings are performed during regular dental checkups; you are also able to reduce your chance of heart disease by adhering to good oral health practices. We are here to help catch the problems before they worsen.
Our goal is for every one of our patients to live the longest life possible, which is why we are dedicated to providing early detection for serious problems such as oral cancer. A survival rate of 80% is great, but we aren’t going to be happy until it is 100%. By keeping up with your regular checkups, you help to ensure that you will have more years with your family and friends, and less time feeling sick and weak.
There are lifestyle choices you can make to reduce your risk considerably. Giving up tobacco in all forms, along with alcohol are big ones. Avoiding risky sexual behavior is also important. Protect yourself from overexposure to the sun, and eat a healthy diet. Research has consistently found that a high intake of fruits and vegetables is protective against oral and throat cancer; a good diet will also bolster your immune system. And please remember to schedule regular checkups here at the dental office. An oral cancer screening takes just a few minutes, but it could save your life.
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