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    Staying ahead of your health: Oral Cancer Awareness

    Oral health is overall health, and oral cancer represents just one example of the systemic connections between the mouth and body. As April signifies Oral Cancer Awareness Month, we want to help guide you through why this matters, what preventative steps you can take, and what to expect in an oral cancer screening.

    Early detection saves lives
    In this year alone, oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer will be diagnosed in over 55,000 Americans and will kill around 11,500, according to the American Cancer Society. In fact, oral cancer kills one person every single hour. The cancer develops when cells in the tissues of the mouth grow and divide uncontrollably, with the most commonly infected sites being the tongue, floor of the mouth, and the soft palate, as well as less commonly on the lips, cheeks, or gums. 

    The survival rate is low – only 50% of all oral cancer patients are cured – because the disease is usually diagnosed in its later stages. That’s why getting ahead of the disease with preventative care and early detection is key to ensuring you and your family stay healthy.

    Risk factors and preventive steps you can take
    Oral cancer can be treatable, but there are steps you can take to avoid this disease completely. This process starts with five key healthy lifestyle choices:

    1.    Avoid the use of tobacco
    2.    Drink alcohol in moderation
    3.    Regularly visit the dentist
    4.    Get vaccinated for HPV
    5.    Monitor exposure to direct sunlight

    By prioritizing these steps, you are avoiding major risk factors and will greatly reduce your chance of developing cancerous cells.

    It is also important to recognize any genetic predispositions you might have with developing the disease. Oral cancer typically affects older people, usually because of their longer exposure to risk factors. Incidence of oral cancer rises steadily with age, reaching a peak in those who are 65 to 74 – but for African Americans, incidence peaks about 10 years earlier. Men are also twice as likely to develop oral cancer.

    What to expect in an oral cancer check
    An oral exam is not only quick, painless, and easy, but will provide you with lasting peace of mind. They can be performed at a regular check-up with your dentist and should only take a few minutes. Here are a few things to expect from the exam:
    1.    If you have dentures or partials, you will be asked to remove them.
    2.    Your dentist will inspect your face, neck, lips, and mouth to look for signs of cancer, feeling the area under your jaw and the side of your neck, checking for lumps that may suggest cancer.
    3.    He or she will then look at and feel the insides of your lips and cheeks, check your tongue, and monitor the roof and floor of your mouth and back of your throat.

    This quick inspection can give you clarity on the status of your health, keeping you on the right track to ensure you stay healthy and happy.     

    With early discovery and treatment, survival rates for oral cancer greatly increase, so make sure to get yourself checked out by a professional, monitor yourself for any abnormal developments, and continue to live a safe and healthy life.