The big “C Word”, a word none of us like to use and hopefully will never have to associate ourselves with. But with recent statistics showing that 1 in 2 of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetimes, maybe we should be learning how to spot the signs.
When you visit the dentist be that here with us at thegallery or elsewhere, your check up will include a soft tissue check. This is a routine examination of your oral cavity (the mouth) and the surrounding tissues (neck/ throat & face) do not panic if the term “Oral Cancer Check” is used. Like I said it is 100% routine and it is always better to be safe than sorry. This check will cover all of the areas of the mouth listed below (don’t be surprised if we ask you to stick out your tongue!)
The mouth is an amazing thing it enables us to eat, drink, chew and swallow, breath and talk! Its medical title is the Oral Cavity. Mouth cancer includes any and all cancers that start within the Oral Cavity. In other words:
• Front two thirds of the tongue
• Upper and lower gums (the gingival)
• Inside lining of the cheeks and lips (the buckle mucosa)
• Floor of the mouth, under the tongue
• Roof of the mouth (the hard palate)
• Area behind the wisdom teeth (called the retromolar trigone)
Your dentist will also check for signs of potential throat cancer, the medical term for which is Oropharyngeal cancer.
The oropharynx is what connects the mouth to the top of the throat.
Cancers that start in this area are known as oropharyngeal cancers. (Pronounced oar-oh-fah-rin-jee-al). The areas within the oropharynx include:
• The back third of the tongue
• The soft area at the back of the roof of the mouth (the soft palate)
• The tonsils and the two ridges of tissue in front of and behind the tonsils (called the Tonsillar pillars)
• The back wall of the throat.
Now we are a little more familiar with our mouths and throats we can understand why some oral cancers do go undiagnosed, there is a lot of ground to cover in there! And if you are a person who doesn’t like to go to the dentist too often then there may be things that are being missed.
Currently there is no national screening programme for mouth and oropharyngeal cancers within the UK; this is because these cancers are relatively uncommon. With uncommon diseases it is most cost effective to screen people who have an increased risk of developing them. So what are the numbers for oral cancers? As I mentioned before these cancers are relatively rare and including cancers of the lip, tongue, mouth, and oropharynx there are about 6,800 people diagnosed every year. Overall about 2 out of every 100 cancers diagnosed (2%) are oral cancers.
As with most cancers, oral cancer is more commonly found in older people. Only around 1 in 8 cases are in people younger than 50 years old. But who else has an increased risk of developing oral cancer? Smoking tobacco (Cigarettes, cigars and pipes) and drinking a lot of alcohol are the main risk factors for oral cancer in the western world. A study in 2011 found that if you smoke you are at a higher than average risk of developing mouth or oropharyngeal cancer, in fact it found that more than half of the diagnosed cases within the UK are caused by smoking. Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of oral cancers and a large study carried out by Cancer Research UK which looked at lifestyle factors found that a third (or 30%) of cases were caused by excessive alcohol consumption. There are several more factors that are proven to be a direct link to oral cancers, take a look at Cancer Research UKs website to see if you are unknowingly increasing your chances of developing symptoms.
Now this article is not meant to scare anyone, the aim is to make us all aware of what we should be looking for in order to keep ourselves fit and healthy. Here at thegallery we are dedicated to ensuring the best care for our patients, if you have any concerns regarding your oral health we are more than happy to see you and put your mind at ease.