The dangers of oral cancer and how to detect it

Oral cancer doesn’t get the media attention that others do, but it can be just as devastating.

It starts as a tiny, often unnoticed white or red spot in your mouth but can quickly develop into something serious.

Dr. James Michino, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, says the danger with oral cancer is that a lot of times, it is painless.

“The problem with oral cancer is that you don’t detect it, so by the time you detect it, it’s in a late stage, an invasive stage,” he said.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than half of all oral cancer patients are 65 and older, and a whopping 90 percent of oral cancer patients use tobacco.

If you drink and smoke, your risks are even higher.

“If this was a smoker and somebody that drank on a daily basis, an older patient, I would biopsy this immediately,” Michino said.

Michino says a dental hygienist is usually the first person on the front line to see a potential problem, a suspicious lesion that won’t go away.

“If you have a lesion in your mouth that lasts for more than two weeks, whether it’s a small lesion or a more aggressive lesion, you should have it checked out by your dentist,” Michino said.

A biopsy will determine if the lesion is cancerous.

There are other signs that only you can see or feel, like difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking, or difficulty moving your jaw or tongue. That’s why doctors urge kupuna not to neglect their oral health.

“Every year, there’s 50,000 new cases in the United State, 10,000 deaths per year,” Michino said.

Even if you survive, this a deforming type of cancer.

“You’re not just removing the lesion here, you actually have have a margin in all three dimensions,” Michino said.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Don’t ignore any suspicious lumps or sores and you see something, see your dentist immediately.

Early treatment could save your life.

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