April is Oral Cancer Awareness month and your West Seattle dentist, Dr. Christine Kirchner wants you to be informed! We will be doing a series of blog posts that will tell you the basics of what oral cancer is and its symptoms, risk factors that can contribute to contracting the disease, and how Dr. Kirchner and her staff detect it during a routine oral exam.
Oral cancer is cancer that affects the tissues in your mouth, like your tongue, cheeks, or gums. Sometimes it can affect the throat as well. Let’s review what cancer is in the first place. Your body is made up of billions of cells. Naturally, your cells die after a period of time. Oh don’t worry! The amazing thing about your body is that the cells will divide and make new ones as they are needed. Sometimes, though, your body starts making new cells when it doesn’t need to, or the old crusty ones that need to die don’t. All these extra cells floating around can clump together and start forming a mass (you may know its name, a tumor). The tumor can cause the cells to invade your other body systems and basically just cause things to start running amuck.
When this happens in the mouth, usually what shows up is a tiny white or red patch somewhere on your tissue, like this:
It might hurt, it might not. It’s not the same for everyone. It might be benign (read: does not cause cancer) or malignant (read: causes cancer). The important thing to do in this situation, if you notice it before your dentist does, is to let them know and have it looked at. Caught early, it is a lot more treatable than later on. Some other symptoms of oral cancer include:
- A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
- A color change of the oral tissues
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
- Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.
If you have any of these symptoms in your mouth, give Dr. Kirchner’s office a call right away. Her and her staff will be able to do an exam and recommend the next step in the treatment process that is right for you.
For more information on oral cancer you can visit the American Dental Association’s website here or the National Cancer Institute’s website here. And be sure to check back next week for the next post in the series: Risk factors contributing to oral cancer.