With every exam you receive at Perdido Bay Dental, we do a thorough oral cancer screening. Oral cancer can develop in any part of the mouth, including the tongue, lips, gums, roof or floor of the mouth and lining of the cheeks. And it can often be hard to spot on your own. Signs of oral cancer include sores in the mouth that won’t heal, a growth in the lining of the mouth or cheek, tongue pain, difficulty chewing or swallowing, and jaw pain or stiffness. Sounds all a bit scary, but there are a few things you can do to help ensure you don’t get oral cancer:
Using tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, is one of the biggest known causes of oral cancer. These products contain up to 70 known carcinogens, including lead, arsenic, ammonia, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, and more. Nasty stuff. About 80 percent of people with oral cancers use some kind of tobacco product.
Chewing tobacco is an especially known cause of cancer in the cheek, lips and gums, because the tobacco and chemicals are right against the tissue. These cancers typically start out as a white patch called a leukoplakia or a red patch called a erythroplakia. Sometimes these patches can be benign, but only an oral cancer screening by a dentist or doctor can determine this.
According to the American Cancer Society, most of the chemicals in tobacco products directly damage and change DNA. DNA changes can turn off tumor suppressor genes, which stop cells from reproducing out of control, and lead to cells growing with no end in sight. When tobacco damages the cells in the mouth and throat, the cells have to repair and regrow more rapidly, thus creating more chances for mistakes when the cells are copying their DNA. These mistakes can potentially result in the creation of cancer cells.
Heavy Alcohol Use
Similar to what happens to mouth and throat cells in a person who uses tobacco regularly, alcohol damages cells and increases the risk for cancer-causing cells to grow and reproduce. Studies have also shown that alcohol allows DNA-damaging chemicals into healthy cells more easily, thus increasing the cancer risk as well.
The National Cancer Institute notes that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol regularly (one drink a day) have 1.8-fold higher risks of oral cavity and throat cancers and 1.4-fold higher risks of larynx cancers. Heavy drinkers (four to five drinks a day) have 5-fold higher risks of oral throat cancers and 2.6-fold higher risks of larynx cancers.
People who drink and use tobacco products regularly are at a much greater risk of developing oral cancer, as the amount of DNA-damaging chemicals is even higher. Even if you quit drinking or cut back drastically, a 2013 study found that it would take more than 35 years for the higher risks of throat cancers associated with drinking to decrease to the level of people who have never drank alcohol in their lifetime.
Nearly 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year, and the number of those cases caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) is the majority. HPV is a common, sexually-transmitted virus and nearly 40 million Americans are thought to be carrying and infected with HPV. Still, only about 1 percent of individuals that develop a high risk type oral HPV infection ever turn into into oral cancer.
There are nearly 200 strains of HPV, and nine are known to cause cancer. One strain of HPV in particular, HPV16, appears to be a cause of oral cancer, in addition to cervical cancers. HPV most often causes oral cancers of the tonsils and back of the tongue and throat. It is important to note that not everyone with HPV will develop oral cancer, or any cancer.
While these are the most common and proven causes of oral cancer, sometimes there is no known or identifiable cause of oral cancer. That’s why it’s important to get regular dental checkups and exams that include oral cancer screenings to catch anything suspicious before it can develop into cancer. If you are located in the Pensacola area, call today (850) 542-4428) to schedule an appointment with Dr. Djuric, one of the leading dentists on the Gulf Coast for over 25 years and counting.