Every year thousands of people are diagnosed with oral cancer. Many of these people have been diagnosed late into the third or fourth stage. Oral cancer is uncontrollable growth of cells. These cells invade and inflict damage to the lips, tongue, floor of the mouth, cheek lining, gingiva, and palate. Risk factors for oral cancer include smoking/tobacco use; heavy use of alcohol; chronic irritation from rough teeth, dentures, or filings; excessive sun exposure; human papilloma virus infection; family history; taking immunosuppressants which weaken the immune system; and poor oral hygiene.
Oral cancer can result in:
- Canker sore
- Painful areas
- Tissue redness
- Whitish appearing tissue
Should a dentist find these symptoms they should be assumed due to cancer until it can be proven otherwise. If oral cancer is left untreated it usually results in death because oral cancer requires urgent and continuous attention.
It is the standard of care that a dentist perform a comprehensive cancer-screening exam during every teeth cleaning. If oral cancer is not diagnosed in a timely manner, or has been referred for treatment, is malpractice. It is important that patients be checked for signs of cancer and then immediately informed of possible issues or complications.
Oral cancer that is diagnosed in its late stages can be life threatening. What type of treatment the patient receives depends on the stage of the cancer. The stage of the cancer is determined by tumor size, lymph node involvement, and metastasis. If the tumor is small and has not spread to the lymph nodes, then surgery is recommended. As with all types of surgery there can be complications, including disfigurement of the face, head, and neck. Surgery will often be combined with radiation which carries its own complications such as dry mouth and dysphagia. If large tumors are involved, then chemotherapy is recommended. It is also essential that the patient undergo speech therapy to improve and retain movement, chewing, swallowing, and speech.
When oral cancer is identified early, prior to significant metastasis, then the cure rate is very high. Unfortunately, the majority of oral cancers have already metastasized before being diagnosed. One out of every four individuals who suffer from oral cancer will die due to a delayed diagnosis and treatment.
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