Dentist screens for oral cancerWith Michael Douglas and the other recent media on oral and pharyngeal cancers, Katie Poulsen, a registered dental hygienist at Legacy Dental in Salt Lake City, Utah, would like to discuss  how this “old man smoking disease” is changing it’s face.

The Facts

  • Close to 37,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year.
  • It will cause over 8,000 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours per day.
  • Of those 36,000 newly diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years.

This is a number which has not significantly improved in decades. The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cancers which we hear about routinely such as cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, testicular cancer, and endocrine system cancers such as thyroid, or skin cancer (malignant melanoma). (oralcancerfoundation.org, April 2011)

The death rate is so high for these types of cancers because it
spreads so quickly and many patients are diagnosed late. Oral and
pharyngeal cancers are relatively pain or symptom free and go
unnoticed by the patient due to the tissue and location.

In the past, most of the diagnosed individuals were over 40 and/or
previous smokers. Links have been made to young women and men who use “smokeless” tobacco because of the impression it is a healthier choice. Although the risk for lung cancer is decreased with smokeless tobacco, the risk for oral and other cancers rise. There is also possible risk with the smokeless dissolvable products.

It has also been researched that there is a viral cause in a younger
age group including those who have never used tobacco products. That virus is know as the human papilloma virus. This virus is also the cause of 90% of all cervical cancers.

Typically, in the early stages, oral cancer will look like a white or
red patch. If you have a sore or discolored area in your mouth that
does not heal within 14 days come have it checked by one of our
dentists. We at Legacy Dental perform oral cancer screenings at all of our preventive appointments and on the those with risk factors. Other symptoms that should bring you into see us or a referred oral surgeon are: a lump or mass which can be felt inside the mouth or neck, pain or difficulty in swallowing, speaking, or chewing, any wart like masses, hoarseness which lasts for a long time, or any numbness in the oral/facial region. Also a persistent ear ache in both ears can be a possible warning sign.

For more information on this topic or resource for this article go to
oralcancerfoundation.org or come in and see us.

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Article by Katie Poulsen, BS, RDH. Katie is a dental hygienist at Legacy Dental, in Salt Lake City, Utah.