Oral Cancer Awareness Efforts in the US
The Oral Cancer Foundation and the Head & Neck Cancer Alliance both promote every April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month and every second week of April as Oral Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week.
And besides these two national annual campaigns against oral cancer, you will find that dental associations in general in the US are constantly urging people to schedule an annual oral cancer screening and to be knowledgeable enough of the symptoms to do self-checks between screenings.
The ravages of cancer are severe and life-threatening wherever they occur, but oral cancer patients have had a particularly high mortality rate and especially severe long term effects of the disease when they do beat the cancer. Why? One of the main reasons is the routine lack of early detection of oral cancers.
What Causes Oral Cancer?
It is not precisely known what the "cause" of oral cancer is, but there are many associated habits and factors that have been noticed by medical experts over the years.
First of all, poor oral health increases the risk of oral cancer. Therefore, learning to properly keep up good oral hygiene is critical.
Secondly, smoking and use of other tobacco products is a likely major cause of cancer of the mouth, gums, and throat.
Third, heavy exposure to sun can be a risk factor for cancer of the lips.
Fourth, heavy drinking of alcoholic beverages, especially for those over age 50 is a risk factor.
And fifth and finally, the HPV virus is a major risk-increaser for oral cancers for young people. This is the fastest-growing group that is getting these cancers, and the virus is not simply caught at random but is transmitted sexually.
Note that 99% of those who do get HPV infections in the throat will get rid of the virus on their own. But a portion of the 1% whose immune systems do not get rid of the virus may develop oral cancer.
What Symptoms Should I Watch For?
You should get a regular oral cancer screening at your periodontist's office to be as safe as possible. But between check ups, look for such symptoms as:
- Sores in the mouth that do not heal after two weeks.
- Discoloration of any soft tissue areas inside the mouth, usually to a reddish, whitish, or blackish hue.
- An abnormal growth in the mouth that bleeds when touched.
- A lump or hardened area on the tongue.
- Sores below your dentures that seemingly will not heal.
- A lump on the outside of the neck.
- An unexplained and persisting hoarse throat.
- Difficulty swallowing, coughing, or a feeling as if something were caught in your throat.