Oral cancer is unfortunately becoming more prevalent today. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 24 people die per day in the United States from this disease, or roughly one person per hour. This type of cancer is not typically difficult to treat, but is often discovered too late for treatment to be effective. Fortunately, you can take proactive steps to catch oral cancer early and to prevent its advancement and spread.
Areas to Check for Oral Cancer Signs
A check for warning signs is easy to perform on yourself. Pathologists recommend checking eight specific areas for cancer indications: the face and neck, lips, cheeks, palate, tongue, the floor of the mouth and the throat. Much of the self-exam consists of touching and visually examining these areas for problem spots.
If abnormalities are found, doctors recommend that you watch them for a couple of weeks. If they do not resolve on their own, see your doctor or an oral pathologist as soon as possible. In most cases, the cause for the abnormality is not oral cancer. Nevertheless, it’s important to rule this out.
Look for These Specific Abnormalities
The monthly self-check mostly consists of a search for lumps, lesions or discolorations in the eight important areas:
- Face and neck: New or unusual bumps are the most common problem, especially if they manifest on only one side.
- Lips: Look for bumps as well as discoloration and the presence of sores.
- Inside of cheeks: Look for patches of discoloration and spots that are sensitive to the touch.
- Palate and floor of the mouth: Look for lumps as well as discoloration.
- Tongue: Be on the lookout for abnormalities that include patches of color change.
- Throat: Check for swelling, and if you have a sore throat, watch for it to subside.
Any of the above symptoms should be investigated by your doctor if they do not disappear after two weeks.
Facts and Increased Risks
While oral cancer is common, it is helpful to know the facts and factors of increased risk. Self-checks are critical because early detection and treatment can save your life. Excessive use of alcohol and exposure to UV rays (especially around the lips) can increase your chance of onset, as can routine tobacco use. If you have HPV, you are also at an increased risk. Be especially diligent if you fall into any of these higher-risk categories.
Many people hesitate to conduct monthly self-checks out of fear. Despite the frightening prospect of oral cancer, self-checks can save your life and reduce the chance of complications arising if something should develop.
If you are concerned about your oral health, contact Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah, serving Salt Lake City and the surrounding communities. Specializing in the detection and treatment of oral pathology, the doctors will be happy to demonstrate the correct way to conduct your own oral cancer self-check.