Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Oral Cancer

In celebration of Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week (OHANCAW) April 12-18, 2015, the Jefferson department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery brings you seven things you didn’t know about oral cancer.

  • It’s not just for tobacco users. The biggest risk for oral cancer used to be people who smoked and used chewing tobacco. While cigarettes and chewing tobacco are still a big risk factor, men and women who have been infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) are also at high risk.
  • It strikes the young and old. This cancer type used to be most common for people over 40 and 50. Because people can contract HPV at their earliest sexual encounter, oral cancer caused by this virus can appear earlier. “I’ve seen patients in their 30s with oral cancer,” says Tara DiFabio, CORLN, MSN, CRNP a nurse practitioner in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.
  • Two strikes for highest risk. Both smoking and chewing tobacco increase your chances of developing oral cancer. But your risk increase dramatically if you add drinking alcohol to the mix. Other risk factors include oral sex with multiple partners, which increases the chances of contracting HPV, another cause of oral cancer.
  • Surprise risks. Although less common, things like broken or unhealthy teeth and gums can also lead to oral cancer. The symptoms often cause a low-level inflammation in the mouth, which creates an environment that favors the development of cancer.
  • It’s hard to catch early. Most patients realize they have disease after it has spread. Sometimes there are no early signs of the disease, other times it looks like a mouth sore, or discolored area that doesn’t go away. Often, patients notice a lump through the skin on their neck, or have discomfort when they swallow or chew.
  • Treatment can be disfiguring. Although reconstructive surgeries and treatments have been refined over the years, treatment can change the appearance of the face. In order to remove the bulk of the tumor before chemotherapy or radiation, surgeons may need to remove large portions of the jaw in any head and neck cancer, including oral cancer.
  • Dentists can help, but yearly screens are best. Regular dental exams can go a long way toward helping catch early signs of oral cancer, if you’re worried it’s best to get checked out by an otolaryngologist or head and neck surgeon. Luckily the OHANCAW organizes free oral-cancer screens once a year in locations across the country. (See below for more information about Jefferson’s free oral cancer screening.)

Jefferson’s Free Oral Cancer Screening hosted by the Head and Neck Surgeons in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

When and where: April 15th from 1pm – 4pm on the Center City campus at 925 Chestnut (entrance on 10th street). Call 1-800-JEFF-NOW today to reserve your spot.

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