Your Reflection Can Help With Early Detection
The American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout® challenges Americans to quit smoking for at least one day. As part of this day, the Massachusetts Dental Society (MDS) is also encouraging people to stop using tobacco products and to stop and take a look in the mirror.
While the rates of oral cancer have dropped in the last two decades, health organizations still expect that more than 30,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year. More than 75 percent of oral cancers are attributable to the use of cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco.
People, especially tobacco users, can take an active role in detecting signs of oral cancer by taking a few minutes, once a month, to examine their lips, gums, cheek linings, tongue, and the floor and roof of their mouths.
To perform a complete oral cancer self-exam, use a bright light and mirror to:
- Look for any white or red spots inside your lips and around the inside of your cheeks.
Pull your lip out to look for any raised or thickened areas at the front and inside of your gums.
- Lift your head back to look at the roof of your mouth, feel with your forefinger for any bumps or growths, and look for any color changes that are evident.
- Take a clean gauze or tissue and gently pull your tongue out to view all surfaces on it, including the floor, to observe if there are any color changes or if any red or white lesions are present.
- Lastly, feel for lumps in the neck and lower jaw region on both sides.
Other warning signs of oral cancer include a mouth sore that bleeds easily or does not heal; pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips; difficulty in chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue; changes in the voice; a change in the way teeth fit together; and drastic weight loss. If you detect any of these conditions, contact your dentist immediately.
However, according to MDS, an oral cancer self-exam should be considered a secondary, preventive technique in detecting early lip and mouth lesions. Self-exams should never take the place of a professional exam. It’s comparable to self breast exams. They’re important to do, but should never replace a mammogram.
Be certain that your dentist performs an oral cancer screening as part of your regular checkup. Detecting and treating oral cancer as early as possible is critical in treating and beating this potentially deadly disease.
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