As many as 40,000 American men and woman receive an oral cancer diagnosis each year. More shocking still, nearly 8,000 deaths are attributed to the disease yearly. Oral cancers, which encompass cancer of the mouth, lip, throat, and tongue, have a higher death rate than more widely known cancers, such as cervical cancer, skin cancer, or testicular cancer. Rochester, MN dentist Dr. Gilly Calcagno attributes this discomfiting statistic to the fact that oral cancers most often go undiagnosed in the earliest stages. It is not until the cancer has spread—usually to the lymph nodes—to other areas of the body.
Oral Cancer Is Often Preventable
Although the thought of oral cancer, or any type of cancer, is frightening, Dr. Calcagno points out that the disease is largely preventable. An understanding of the risk factors and symptoms of oral cancer, combined with regular dental exams and screening, is your greatest ally in the prevention and early detection of the disease. These risk factors include:
- Using tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, is the single riskiest behavior in terms of developing oral cancer. Cigars, cigarettes, pipes, and chewing tobacco all contain harmful substances called carcinogens, which can cause cancer.
- The Oral Cancer Foundation reports that excessive alcohol consumption elevates your risk of being diagnosed with some form of oral cancer. Alcohol abuse, generally defined as consuming more than 21 alcoholic beverages in a single week, is the second most significantly risk factor.
- Sun exposure doesn’t just increase your risk of skin cancer; it also increases the likelihood of getting lip cancer. When most people spend long periods of time in the sun, or when they tan, they apply protective sunblock only to their skin. Dr. Calcagno advises patients to apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen before spending time outdoors. Reapply throughout the day, especially if you lick your lips often.
Other risk factors include being male, older than 40 years of age, and having a history of vital infections like human papillomavirus, or HPV. Consuming an unhealthy diet lacking fruits and veggies will also increase your risk.
Know the Symptoms of Oral Cancer
When you schedule regular dental exams and professional cleanings, symptoms of oral cancer are less likely to go undetected. However, if you notice these symptoms between office visits, Dr. Calcagno encourages you to contact her office as soon as possible. The most commonly reported symptoms include difficulty swallowing, a chronic achiness in the mouth, persistent sores that won’t go away, and patches of red or white inside the mouth. Unusual bumps and lumps should also raise a red flag.
Questions about preventive care? To learn more about our services, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Gilly Calcagno, contact our office at (507) 281-3659. We are pleased to serve patients living in Red Wing, Winona, Farmington, St. Charles, and the surrounding communities.