A few years ago I saw a gentleman for the first time in our Lake Placid office that came to see us with a chief concern of an inability to swallow. He was in his 50s and had a large mass growing on the right side of his mouth, near his throat. The growth had obviously been there for quite some time and had finally reached a stage that made it difficult for him to function and caused him to seek help. Being almost certain that we were looking at an oral squamous cell carcinoma we immediately referred him to a surgeon to have the mass removed and successfully treated. Fortunately the gentleman is still alive today and doing well and he and his wife have thanked us profusely for saving his life.
This past week, I saw another young man who is in his early thirties and has a history of being successfully treated for another type of cancer. I noticed some changes in his oral mucosa and asked him if he was using smokeless tobacco and he answered in the affirmative. This was an “intelligent”, educated young man with a past history of cancer and yet he was still willing to take the obvious risk of using tobacco in spite of his previous experiences.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. According to the National Cancer Institute there were 41,380 cases of oral cancer reported in 2013 and 7,890 deaths attributed to oral cancer. There are ways to minimize your risk of contracting oral cancer. An unholy triad has been identified as being related to a dramatic increase in the incidence of oral cancer. This triad includes: Poor oral hygiene, chronic tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption. Dr. John Kalmar, president of the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, has stated that, “Cigarettes and excessive alcohol use increases the risk of oral cancer up to 15 fold in patients who both smoke and drink.”
Another potential cause of oral cancer is the sexually transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV). It is now the most common sexually transmitted disease and may be related to as many as 60% of cancers located in the throat and at the base of the tongue.
So how do you survive oral cancer? The best way is to never get it and the best way to not get it is to avoid the near occasion of the things that cause it such as alcohol and tobacco use. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends vaccination of preteens for HPV. Finally, early detection and treatment is critical for surviving oral cancer, so routine visits to the dentist in which a thorough cancer screening occurs is essential.
So in summary the six keys to surviving oral cancer are:
- Avoid getting the disease
- Avoid tobacco use
- Alcohol use in moderation
- HPV immunization in preteens and high risk adults
- Excellent oral hygiene
- Screening by your dentist on a regular basis leading to early detection and treatment
Plattsburgh NY 12901