PDA Stresses Importance Of Early Detection For Oral Cancer

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Approximately 35,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year and nearly 8,000 people died of these cancers in 2007 alone. Early detection is an integral part in battling the disease and can even help identify precancerous cells before they become cancerous.

The Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) stresses that regular dental checkups play an essential part in the early detection of oral cancer. The term oral cancer refers to cancers located in any part of the mouth, including the lips, gum tissue, tongue and the soft or hard palate, or in the pharynx, the top part of the throat.

Adults over the age of 40 are more susceptible to oral cancer and the disease historically affects twice as many men than women. However, there has been a nearly five-fold increase in incidence in oral cancer patients under the age of 40. Individuals who use any form of tobacco products, especially when combined with the use of alcohol, are at a greater risk for developing oral cancer.

"All patients should be screened for oral cancer whether they fall into one of the high-risk categories or not," said Dr. John Meci, a PDA member and general dentist from Coplay. "Additionally, patients who do not have their own teeth should have their dentures checked periodically for proper fit and their mouth examined for precancerous or cancerous lesions."

While you should visit the dentist twice a year for regular checkups, dentists recommend that you check your mouth at home monthly. If you notice sores in the mouth or on the lips that do not heal; a lump or discolored patches on the inside of the mouth; difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the jaw or tongue; swelling of the jaw that changes the way that the teeth fit together or how dentures fit; or pain or numbness in any part of the mouth, contact your dentist immediately.

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Sometimes an oral spot or sore may be difficult to see without the help of a dentist and that is why oral cancer screening should be a routine part of any dental examination. If your dentist detects an area of concern, he or she can test it to determine whether or not the area is cancerous. A BrushTest collects cells from a suspicious lesion in the mouth and the cells are then sent to a laboratory for analysis. If precancerous cells are found, and confirmed by a follow up incisional biopsy and histology, the lesion can be surgically removed if necessary during a separate procedure.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recently partnered with OralCDx Laboratories as part of a three-year nationwide public service campaign in an effort to further increase the public's awareness of oral cancer and the importance of early detection.

To help protect yourself against oral cancer, PDA recommends the following tips to stay healthy:

-- Avoid tobacco and alcohol use.

-- Visit the dentist every six months for regular checkups and ensure that oral cancer screenings are part of every six-month checkup.

-- Wear lip balm that contains sunscreen as prolonged exposure to the sun can cause lip cancer.

-- Eat nutritious foods. Studies suggest that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may help prevent the development of potentially cancerous lesions.

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