The complexities of oral cancer: why preemptive screening matters

While many different kinds of cancer have captured the attention of the general public over recent years, oral cancer is an unfortunate exception — it has largely existed under the radar. Because of the lack of awareness, oral cancer is often not discovered or diagnosed early enough. So by the time a patient contacts their healthcare professional for screening, an otherwise treatable disease can turn deadly. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, nearly 53,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year alone. Take the time to educate yourself on this difficult disease, to better equip yourself with the knowledge needed to manage your healthcare in stride.

Screening for oral cancer is critical. In medical scenarios, screening means proactive attempts to detect a disease in individuals who are not showing any signs or symptoms of experiencing the disease, in the hopes of diagnosing an illness in its early stages. Ideally, intervention can occur, and patient suffering, as well as hospital bills, can be minimized.

It’s important for you as a patient to be conscious of the multiple risk factors that impact your chances of developing a disease such as oral cancer. There are two categories of risk factors: genetic ones that come from your family and background that are largely out of your control, and then there are environmental ones that come from things such as your diet, exercise habits, and other daily interactions or choices that you make. You have power over the latter. Here are three things you can do to reduce your risk factors.

1. Focus on meeting your body’s nutritional needs; some studies have shown that the consumption of plant-based foods, such as non-starchy vegetables and whole fruits, can reduce the risk of oropharyngeal and laryngeal cancers

2. Use sunscreen. Many people forget to apply SFP to the lips. So while it’s great to get some time in the sunshine for your daily dose of vitamin D, it’s key that you properly protect all of the skin on your face — including your lips. If cream or spray sunscreens aren’t enjoyable to use, try out a lip balm or lip product that incorporates SPF in it. Products such as these can be found easily at affordable price points at your local drugstore.

3. Maintain high quality dental habits. Please floss, brush, and use mouthwash per your dentist’s instructions, and visit your dental care team for frequent cleanings. Studies have suggested that poor dental hygiene leads to an increased risk of oral cancers. And for a plethora of other reasons, it’s key that you keep up with caring for your teeth and gums to maximize your health and longevity.

If you are a smoker or over the age of 40, we highly recommend reaching out to our dental care team to learn more about VELscope screening; this is a laser-assisted form of tissue evaluation. Although it’s not covered by insurance providers, it is a key tool for oral cancer screening.

With these suggestions and pieces of information in mind, there’s no need for oral cancer-related paranoia. Instead, care for yourself and your dental health, keep regular appointments with your dentist, and you’ll be well on your way to preventing diseases such as oral cancer.

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