April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

By Dr. Stephanie McGannDMD FAGD, Columnist, The Times

Every month is awareness for so many things now. In Healthcare alone April has 7 major awareness items slated for April.  Not to mention awareness weeks.  Why is it so important to have all of these awareness events?  The answer may be obvious but often ignored. Early detection of something abnormal leads to early diagnosis. The earlier the diagnosis the more effective the treatment.  Oral cancer is no different.

Every time a person visits their dentist, in addition to inspecting their teeth the dentist and hygienist look at the tongue, and mucous membranes inside the mouth. They may also identify abnormalities in the tonsil or palate.  What are we looking for?  Anything that is not the color, shape or texture it’s supposed to be.  Not every “funny looking” thing in the mouth is cancer. Most are not.  

While some cancers have no obvious cause, there are some significant risk factors to be aware of.  Smokeless tobacco (aka chew, dip, snuff etc.) is huge culprit. When a person uses these products the area of the mouth where they hold it undergoes changes.  What to look for?  The tissue inside the mouth is whiter, thicker and may have little ridges in it. These changes are potentially dangerous and should be examined immediately.  Cigarette smoking over time can lead to changes in the tissue of not only the lungs but also the throat, lips or palate.

Other factors that increase the risk of developing oral cancer.  Individuals who carry the HPV virus have an increased risk for oral cancer as well as cervical cancer in women.  Excessive alcohol consumption also has been shown to increase the risk.  Poor diet increases many cancer risks including oral cancer.  Cancer of the lips has been shown to have a relationship to overexposure to sunlight.

Then, with all diagnosis, there is just bad luck. Those are the patients who have no known risk factors but develop oral cancer anyway.

Oral cancer is easily treated with early detection. If you are not 100% certain what caused a lump or bump in your mouth see a dentist. If you don’t have a dentist use the American Dental Association Find-A-Dentist program.  https://findadentist.ada.org/

Oral cancer can happen to anyone.  A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a member of our dentist community. This person had no known risk factors but was visiting a dental office to present information on a new screening protocol.  She volunteered to be screened as part of the training.  A small spot was identified.  It was biopsied and sent for evaluation.  Yes, it came back positive for cancer. She was very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. Her surgery was performed and she went on to be an advocate for early detection.   Had it not been caught early; the ending may very well have been different. The point is, it can happen to anyone. Even dentists.

Stay current with your dental visits and if you notice something unusual don’t wait, schedule a visit to have it looked at.

Dr. Stephanie McGann, who has more than two decades of dental practice experience, is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, practice at The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. Dr. McGann also owns a practice in Valley Township, Rainbow Valley Dental. She is the current President of the Chester/Delaware Dental Society and she is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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