You may not associate dentists with cancer diagnosis, but we can be your first line of defense against a particularly challenging form of the disease: oral cancer.
Oral cancer affects the lips, cheeks, gums, floor and roof of the mouth and the back of the throat. Though this type of cancer is relatively rare – about 3% of all cancers diagnosed – it has one of the lowest five-year survival rates, 50% to 55% according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Despite advances in cancer treatment, generally, the survival rate for oral cancer is not increasing.
That grim circumstance exists partly because oral cancers are often not found until they’re advanced. Studies confirm survival rates could be much better with early detection. That’s where your dentist comes in. Visual screenings by a dentist or hygienist have been shown to reduce mortality in high-risk patients by more than a third.
Today’s technology can improve that outlook even more. With modern equipment, such as the VELscope Dr. Lamberton’s office uses, the five-year survival rate may reach as high as 85%. With this instrument, a dentist can identify as much as 50% more abnormal tissue than with a visual exam – and the procedure is painless and non-invasive.
The VELscope, somewhat resembling a flashlight, uses a special fluorescent light to pinpoint cancerous and potentially cancerous lesions, even ones in the earliest stages that are not yet apparent to the naked eye.
We feel it’s so important our patients have this screening that we provide it with every examination at no extra charge.
A VELscope exam takes just two minutes, and if we find questionable tissue, we refer the patient to an oral surgeon, who can do a biopsy. The good news is that, in most cases, lesions are benign.
There is bad news: Unlike nearly all other cancers, oral cancer is on the rise. Even worse, the greatest increase is occurring among young people. Why is this, when they are too young to be affected by most of the long-term behaviors that cause the disease? Human papillomavirus – HPV – which young people are contracting in greater numbers – is the major reason.
Young or old, your lifestyle can affect your risk. Here are some factors to be aware of:
- Smoking. This is #1. An estimated 75% to 90% of all oral cancers are a result of smoking or chewing tobacco.
- Drinking alcohol. The level of consumption seems to matter: The more you drink, the higher your risk.
- HPV. Though the incidence of oral cancer with HPV involvement is rising, when this type of cancer is caught early, the outlook is better than for other types of oral cancer.
- Gender. About twice as many men as women are diagnosed with oral cancer.
- Age. Most patients diagnosed with oral cancer are older than 55.
- Sunlight. The sun can cause cancer of the lips with prolonged exposure, such as an outdoor job.
- Poor nutrition. Diets low in vegetables and fruit are linked with increased risk of oral cancer.
- Dentures. Ill-fitting dentures can irritate the skin and trap cancer-causing agents. Dentures should be removed and cleaned every day.
Our office may use our VELscope to check your mouth and gums during your examination to identify possible problems, so let us know if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Sores, swelling or lumps in your mouth or on your lips.
- The feeling you have something stuck in your throat.
- Numbness or pain anywhere in your mouth.
- Red or white patches in your mouth.
- A lingering sore throat or hoarseness.
- Unexplained ear pain.
- Loose teeth with no apparent cause.
Our patients’ health is important to us, and using the VELscope as a part of our examinations is one way we’re helping ensure that they are thriving.