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April Is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

Close to 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year with oral or oropharyngeal (throat) cancer. These cancers kill an average of 1 person every hour, 24 hours a day. Of those, only 57% are estimated to still be living in 5 years. The death rate for oral cancer is one of the worst of all cancers. It is higher than cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, thyroid cancer, or skin cancer (malignant melanoma).

Although new cases have been dropping over the past few decades, a recent rise has been seen in throat cancers related to HPV (human papilloma virus) in white males under age 50. The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62, but about a third now occur in patients younger than 55.

The death rate for these cancers has seen a slight decrease since 1980. Unfortunately, some symptoms do not emerge until the cancer has reached an advanced stage, or symptoms can mimic something that appears normal, like a bite on the inside of your cheek. The most common symptoms are:
• white or red patch of tissue
• lesion in the mouth
• a lump or mass inside the mouth or neck
• difficulty or discomfort when swallowing
• persistent sore throat
• a wart-like mass
• numbness in the oral/facial region

Lesions or discolorations that are early warning signs are not always visible, particularly in the back portion of the mouth (the oropharynx, the tonsils, and base of tongue). This can be an obstacle in early diagnosis and treatment. This is another reason that your regular oral hygiene check-ups are so important. During these times, we look for unusual changes in the mouth that can indicate a problem.

However, you should never wait until your scheduled appointment to have anything unusual examined. Call 219-987-5733 immediately for an appointment if you have an area that needs to be checked or have not had regular dental visits.