Posts for tag: oral cancer
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
A half million people are diagnosed every year with oral cancer. While other cancers are more prevalent, oral cancer is among the most dangerous with only a fifty percent five-year survival rate.
A major reason for this low rate is because this fast growing cancer is difficult to detect early — diagnosis comes far too often after the disease has already well advanced. In an effort to detect cancer earlier many dentists visually screen for oral abnormalities during checkups, especially patients over fifty, tobacco or heavy alcohol users, patients with a family history of cancer or a medical history of exposure to the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, HPV-16.
If they detect an abnormality, the dentist often refers the patient to an oral surgeon or other specialist for a possible biopsy. In this procedure the surgeon removes a sample of the abnormal tissue, which is then examined microscopically for cancer cells. A biopsy remains the most effective way to diagnose oral cancer.
Because of the disease's aggressive nature, many dentists lean to the side of caution when referring patients for biopsy. As a result 90% of oral biopsies reveal no cancer. Reducing the number of biopsy referrals is highly desirable, especially for the patient undergoing the procedure. Tissue samples tend to be large to ensure complete detection of any cancer cells. Depending on the size and location of the sample, there may be a risk for loss of function or disfigurement.
A new screening tool using a sample of a patient's saliva could help reduce the number of biopsy referrals. Besides DNA, saliva also contains dormant genes called biomarkers that activate in response to the presence of a specific disease. This particular saliva test identifies those biomarkers for oral cancer if they're present.
A sample with a low score of biomarkers indicates no cancer present (with a statistical confidence of 99%). A medium or high score indicates cancer may be present, but only a biopsy can determine for sure. Using this test, dentists might be able to reduce the number of biopsy referrals and instead be able to employ watchful waiting in certain cases. Because of its simplicity and non-invasiveness, saliva screening could help identify oral cancer earlier.
Your regular dental checkups should periodically include an important screening for oral cancer, especially as you grow older. Although oral cancers make up less than 3% of all other types, they’re among the most deadly with a 58% survival rate after five years.
Besides hereditary factors, oral cancer is strongly linked to tobacco use, alcohol abuse or diets low in fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s also a greater concern as we age: 90% of new cases of oral cancer occur in people over the age of 40, heightening the need for regular screenings. These screenings become all the more important because many early sores or lesions can mimic other conditions like canker sores — without early detection, the disease could already be in advanced stages when it’s diagnosed.
An oral screening for cancer involves both sight and touch. We’ll first look for any suspicious lesions and red or white patches in the soft tissues of the face, neck, lips and mouth. We’ll then feel for any abnormal lumps on the mouth floor, the sides of the neck and in gland locations. We’ll also examine all sides of the tongue including underneath, as well as the tissues lining the back of your throat.
If we notice anything that’s concerning we may then perform a biopsy by removing a small bit of the suspicious tissue and have it examined microscopically for the presence of cancer cells. We may also remove any lesions deemed pre-cancerous as an added precaution against possible cancer development.
The American Cancer Society recommends an oral cancer screening annually for people forty years or older and every three years for people between the ages of 20 and 39. Even better, we recommend all adults undergo a screening every year. This, along with ending tobacco use and other lifestyle and dietary changes, will greatly improve your chances of remaining free of oral cancer.
If you would like more information on detecting and treating oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”