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Get Screened! Oral Cancer Awareness Month

  • April 15, 2015

It’s spring time in Columbia again, and that brings to mind lots of things: cleaning house after the long winter, going to baseball games and the outdoor activities, and just generally basking in the pleasant weather. These are just a few of the things that might end up on a person’s “Spring To-Do List”.

One more thing that should be on that list: a dental check-up.

“April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month”

Oral cancer is a major public health concern nationwide. Oral cancer includes all cancers of the head and neck. The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that between cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, pharynx, larynx, and sinuses will strike around 54,000 people in the U.S.

Every year, roughly 13,500 people die from oral cancer per year.

Like most cancers, treatment and survival is possible, provided that it’s caught early. In order to do that, the very best thing you can do for your health is make an appointment with your dentist.

“But I don’t smoke, so I’m not at risk for oral cancer.”

Don’t get us wrong: smoking (or any tobacco use) will still definitely increase your risk of getting oral cancer. Up until recently, smoking and tobacco use was the primary cause of oral cancer in the US. Fewer and fewer people smoke all the time; if tobacco use is so strongly connected to oral cancer, isn’t it reasonable to believe that oral cancer rates should be on the way down?

Even as smoking and tobacco use become less popular, oral cancer kills more people than cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer, or skin cancer.

25% of oral cancer diagnoses happen to people who were generally healthy and did not smoke.

Even worse, oral cancer is striking people in the age range of 25 – 50, at a higher rate than any other group. These are adults in their prime years (only a few years after most people graduate from college, and only a few years before many people retire).So what’s happening?

Three letters: HPV (human papillomavirus). It’s the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US. The CDC estimates that 80% of Americans will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives, and there isn’t a cure. That’s a high number, but it’s not so bad when you consider that 99% of those people will only be carriers of the virus.

They’ll never experience any obvious symptoms of HPV infection, and that’s what makes oral cancer so insidious. Even if you show no symptoms of HPV, that doesn’t protect you from oral cancer. You can still develop it even if you’re just a carrier!

What Can I Do?

One thing you can do is make a habit of self-examinations. They aren’t difficult and are worth the small amount of time they take to do. Check out WebMD’s simple how-to page by clicking here.

At home, look for these symptoms (your dentist will look for the same):


  • Discoloration (red, speckled, or white) in areas on or around the mouth that don’t heal after two weeks
  • Feeling a mass in your mouth or in your throat (you’ll really feel it)
  • Pain in the face, neck, or mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding or numbness
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Chronic hoarseness or sore throat, or a change in your voice
  • Ear pain (when you’re sure you don’t have an ear infection)
  • Changes in the “fit” of your teeth or dentures
  • Sudden weight loss

The number one thing you can do is make an appointment to see your dentist. Oral cancer screenings are usually part of a routine check-up, but mention it to your dentist anyway: it will let them know you’re serious about maintaining your oral health!

Oral cancer screenings won’t cause you much discomfort. In fact, if you’ve been going to the dentist regularly, you’ve probably been getting them and not even known it! If your dentist does find something that looks suspicious, they may take a biopsy of tissue from your oral cavity; that’s about as bad as it will get, and the peace of mind is well worth the mild discomfort.

Make an Appointment Today!

Oral cancer is dangerous, but prevention is possible.

This April, make an appointment with us! Seeing the dentist isn’t just about making sure you’ve got all your teeth in good working order; it could save your life.

Click here for our online appointment form or call our office at 803-272-4162.

For more in-depth information on oral cancer, the risks, and current research, click here for the Oral Cancer Foundation’s website.


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