I’d like to quote Mahatma Gandhi,  “It is health that is real wealth”.  Our health is something that should be held to the utmost importance in our lives and because that is true each year millions of dollars are spent on various health screenings.  Breast, prostate, cervical, colorectal, just to name a few but how often do you hear about an oral cancer screening?

Cancer can develop in any part of the oral cavity. Because each part of the oral cavity is different, oral cancer encompasses a wide variety of cancer types that are treated in different ways.  Oral cancer can occur on the lips, the inside lining of the lips and cheeks (called the buccal mucosa), the tongue, and the bottom of the mouth. In addition, oral cancer can also develop in the oropharynx, which is the part of the throat that is just behind the mouth and can include the back of the tongue, the back of the roof of the mouth, the tonsils, and the walls of the upper throat.

Oral cancer may not produce pain or recognizable symptoms and is more likely to produce more than one tumor, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. It often appears as a patch of skin discoloration or an ulcer that takes longer than two weeks to heal. Ninety percent of all oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.

The incidence of oral cancer is closely tied to excessive alcohol and tobacco use. About 80 percent of people with oral cancer use tobacco, and about 70 percent are heavy drinkers. For people who both smoke and drink, the risk of oral cancer may be twice as high. Other major risk factors for oral cancer include  infections from the human papilloma virus, gender—men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer—and age, with most patients diagnosed at 55 or older.

Symptoms of oral cancer are sometimes thought to be less serious like a toothache or a mouth sore. If these symptoms persist, however, you should call your doctor, who may recommend tests to check for oral cancer.  Some of the most common symptoms are, a mouth sore that won’t heal(this is the most common symptom), mouth pain that doesn’t go away, a lump or thickening of the cheek, a white or red patch on gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of mouth, difficulty swallowing or chewing, difficulty moving the jaw or tongue, numbness of the tongue or any part of mouth, jaw swelling that makes dentures hurt or fit poorly, loosening of teeth, pain of the teeth or jaw, voice changes, weight loss, persistent bad breath, or lump in the neck area.

The prognosis for oral cancer depends on its location and stage and to could range from a five-year relative survival rate of 93 percent to 20 percent for first-time cancer patients.  For local tongue cancer that has not spread, the survival rate is 78 percent, local lip cancer 93 to 48 percent, while the survival rate for floor of the mouth could be as low as 38 percent according to the American Cancer Society.  If any of these oral cancer symptoms or signs are present for days or weeks, your doctor may recommend tests to check for oral cancer and even refer you to an oral surgeon.

So take the health of your whole body seriously and at each dental visit request that your dentist perform a physical exam, including a complete head and neck exam. As with anything, having health checked routinely will help to catch and diagnosis symptoms early and ensure that any treatment is as effective as possible.