Avoiding cancer!

April 11, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Buck @ 12:14 pm

They say that the title of any article or blog post should grab your attention so hopefully that’s why you are reading this. Did you know that April is oral cancer awareness month? No, well that’s not a surprise because we don’t really hear about it in the media. We seem to hear about cancers such as lymphoma, cervical, thyroid, and testicular cancers more routinely. However, cancers of the head and neck (not including brain cancer) cause many more deaths than those cancers. Over 640,000 cases are diagnosed each year worldwide with about 54,000 being diagnosed here in the US. Of those here at home, 13,500 deaths are due to head and neck cancer each year. The biggest reason why it leads to such a high death rate is because it’s usually not caught until the later stages which usually means it has spread or metastasized. I’m getting a lot of these facts from the Oral Cancer Foundation (http://oralcancerfoundation.org/facts/index.htm). Check out the site, it can give some other scary facts and some gruesome photos.
The point is that you need to be screened for this on a routine basis. Just like women get breast exams and colonoscopies are recommended, the goal is to catch it early so it can be erradicated from your body conservatively. Oral cancer screenings are a lot less invasive and not difficult at all. There are some devices out there that can help, but screening for oral cancer mainly involves using your eyes and your tactile sense. When I do an oral cancer screening, I begin by pulling out the tongue with a piece of gauze then look and feel the sides of the tongue. I look at the tonsils and the roof of the mouth, check the cheeks, feel the floor of the mouth and bottom of the tongue, then feel the gums around the teeth. Total time is about 30-60 seconds. I do that with every patient that has a hygiene appointment. You should be screened every 6 months especially if you are a smoker. This is why it annoys me when people say “it’s just a cleaning”. A good exam has the potential to save your life. It’s one thing to have a cavity, but it’s a whole other to possibly have cancer.
A couple of last points. Smokers and tobacco users are more at risk, but there are a lot of non-smokers that get diagnosed each year as well. There are a lot variables that cause cancer, smoking is just one of them. Screening and diagnosis are two different things. I am looking and feeling for abnormalities or lesions in the oral cavity, I am not diagnosing cancer. The only way to truly diagnose cancer is to biopsy the area and look at the tissue under a microscope. We would send you to an oral surgeon to have that done. If your dentist is not doing an oral cancer screening, you need to ask or find another dentist. If you’re still not getting a regular screening, come in to see me and I’ll do it for free. Lastly, doing a good screening on yourself is a little difficult, but if you see something that doesn’t look right or it hurts, go see your dentist. Especially if it’s been there over 14 days. Don’t think it’s going to get better on it’s own. Remember the best way to survive cancer is to catch it early.