While the prognosis of surviving oral cancer that hasn’t spread to other parts of the body is usually above 80%, it’s important to visit your dentist twice yearly to assess your risk factors and get preventative care for your oral health. Even if you’re diligent about your dental checkups, symptoms of oral cancer can appear between routine appointments. Here are the four stages of oral cancer and some tips for seeking treatment early, which can greatly improve your prognosis.
Oral cancer can affect various areas in and surrounding your mouth, including the gums, lips, tongue, the lining of the cheeks, and the roof and floor of the mouth. If you’re experiencing sores or notice a growth in your mouth that won’t heal, it may be time to call your dentist for a checkup. They can examine the issue, take samples, and determine whether the cause is cancer or another illness, such as infection or trauma to the mouth.
Stages I and II – Early
Although no cancer is “mild,” stages I and II of mouth cancer typically yield a high survival rate if handled properly because the tumor is small and hasn’t spread to any lymph nodes. After your diagnosis, your doctor will discuss the best treatment options. Sometimes, in very early stages, radiation therapy can be used to treat cancer without requiring surgical removal of a tumor. Minor surgery may be required to remove a tumor, and this surgery and radiation therapy can be combined to increase the success rate of treatment.
Early stages of oral cancer may appear with or without pain or discomfort. You may experience the following symptoms, which may indicate an oral problem.
- Red or white patches on the floor or roof of your mouth, on the gums, or lining of your cheeks
- A small growth or lump in your mouth
- A consistently sore throat, or trouble swallowing
If you’ve experienced the above symptoms for more than a week or two, even if you’re not in pain, consult your dentist for an oral cancer screening; catching cancer early is essential to a positive prognosis.
Diagnosing Oral Cancer
Your dentist will provide oral cancer screenings at your twice-yearly visits but if you’ve noticed abnormal symptoms that last for more than a few weeks, call your dentist for a checkup. Your dentist will visually examine your mouth during your visit and may take a small tissue sample to test for cancerous cells. If your dentist determines that your symptoms are caused by oral cancer, they will conduct a thorough inspection of your mouth and throat to decide your prognosis. These tests can include imaging tests or a small camera scope that will determine whether cancerous cells have spread beyond your mouth. Once your dentist diagnoses oral cancer and determines how advanced it is, they will work with you to plan a treatment schedule.
The best way to prevent oral cancer is to visit your dentist once every six months for a checkup and screening. However, your lifestyle choices can affect your likelihood of developing cancer. Avoid tobacco and excessive drinking, and wear sunscreen chapstick on your lips to prevent sun damage; keep a healthy diet and consult your dentist right away if you notice any abnormalities in your mouth.
Have questions about your oral health? Consult TruBlu Dentistry in Burbank, Chicago, and Hegewisch today.