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Don't Ignore the Signs: Oral Cancer Awareness

Thursday, May 12, 2016 10:42 AM

We often don't think twice about getting sore throats when sick, canker sores when stressed or the occasional breakout. Because these are common occurrences, it’s easy to overlook them when they last for several weeks. Doing so can be dangerous, as they may be symptoms of oral cancer.

The disease, which can affect the mouth, throat and glands, can be effectively treated if caught early, which means it’s important to be aware. NorthShore's otolaryngologists at Kellogg Cancer Center recently talked with patients about risks and prevention of oral cancer in an online chat, and answers some more common questions below:

Where can oral cancer develop?
The oral cavity starts at the lip and extends to the soft palate. Any cancer of the tongue, the lining of the cheek (buccal mucosa), lips, gums, floor and roof of mouth are considered oral cancers.

Are there any people particularly at risk?
People who smoke or chew tobacco are at the highest risk. Betel nut use, seen in South Asian countries, is also associated with higher oral cancer risk. People with poor dental hygiene also have a higher risk of oral cancers.

What are some of the most common symptoms that may appear?
The most common symptoms are the development of a sore that persists and causes pain.

How is oral cancer diagnosed?
Oral cancer is usually diagnosed by a biopsy, which can be done by an oral surgeon or otolaryngologist.

How does your dental health affect your risk?
Poor dental hygiene can cause changes in your mouth that increase the risk of oral cancer

What kind of lifestyle changes can you make to decrease your chances of oral cancer?
Avoiding tobacco products is the most important thing one can do to reduce oral cancer risk. Also, getting regular dental checkups with an oral exam can help with early detection.

What are the treatment options for these forms of cancer?
The most common and preferred treatment for oral cancer is surgery. However; in select cases, radiation therapy has been used with success.

Where can I go for an oral cancer screening? Does NorthShore offer this?
As part of oral cancer awareness month, NorthShore provides a free oral screening event. This is offered once a year. If you are interested in oral screening, you may also make an appointment with a NorthShore otolaryngologist or see your dentist for an evaluation.