Posts for tag: oral cancer
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Although oral cancer isn't the most prevalent among metabolic diseases, it is one of the most deadly with only a 50% survival rate after five years. That's because it can be difficult to detect in its early stages when treatment is most effective.
That's why prevention to reduce your chances of oral cancer is so important. Many people know quitting tobacco products, including smokeless varieties, and moderating alcohol consumption are key to any prevention strategy. But there's one other factor you should also consider: your diet.
We've learned quite a bit in the last few decades about how certain foods we eat contribute to the cancer disease process. Cancer seems to originate when elements in the body or environment (known as carcinogens) damage DNA, our unique genetic code, on the cellular level. For example, a class of chemicals called nitrosamines is a known carcinogen: we often encounter it in the form of nitrites used to preserve meat (like bacon or ham) or as byproducts in beer, seafood or cheese.
Another form of carcinogen is the unstable molecules produced during normal cellular function called free radicals. But our bodies have a natural neutralizer for free radicals called antioxidants. We obtain these substances in our food in the form of vitamins and minerals. While you can also ingest these in the form of supplements, the best way to obtain them is through a diet rich in plant-based food, particularly fruits and vegetables.
So in addition to lifestyle changes like quitting tobacco or moderating alcohol consumption, make sure your diet is a healthy and nutritious one. Limit your intake of processed foods (especially meats) and increase your portions of fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
And don't neglect practicing effective brushing and flossing each day, along with regular dental cleanings and checkups. All of these healthy practices will greatly decrease your chances for life-threatening oral cancer.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
A half million people are diagnosed every year with oral cancer. While other cancers are more prevalent, oral cancer is among the most dangerous with only a fifty percent five-year survival rate.
A major reason for this low rate is because this fast growing cancer is difficult to detect early — diagnosis comes far too often after the disease has already well advanced. In an effort to detect cancer earlier many dentists visually screen for oral abnormalities during checkups, especially patients over fifty, tobacco or heavy alcohol users, patients with a family history of cancer or a medical history of exposure to the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, HPV-16.
If they detect an abnormality, the dentist often refers the patient to an oral surgeon or other specialist for a possible biopsy. In this procedure the surgeon removes a sample of the abnormal tissue, which is then examined microscopically for cancer cells. A biopsy remains the most effective way to diagnose oral cancer.
Because of the disease's aggressive nature, many dentists lean to the side of caution when referring patients for biopsy. As a result 90% of oral biopsies reveal no cancer. Reducing the number of biopsy referrals is highly desirable, especially for the patient undergoing the procedure. Tissue samples tend to be large to ensure complete detection of any cancer cells. Depending on the size and location of the sample, there may be a risk for loss of function or disfigurement.
A new screening tool using a sample of a patient's saliva could help reduce the number of biopsy referrals. Besides DNA, saliva also contains dormant genes called biomarkers that activate in response to the presence of a specific disease. This particular saliva test identifies those biomarkers for oral cancer if they're present.
A sample with a low score of biomarkers indicates no cancer present (with a statistical confidence of 99%). A medium or high score indicates cancer may be present, but only a biopsy can determine for sure. Using this test, dentists might be able to reduce the number of biopsy referrals and instead be able to employ watchful waiting in certain cases. Because of its simplicity and non-invasiveness, saliva screening could help identify oral cancer earlier.
Chewing tobacco, especially among young athletes, is considered fashionable — the “cool” thing to do. Many erroneously think it’s a safe alternative to smoke tobacco — it is, in fact, the source of numerous health problems that could ultimately lead to disfigurement or even death.
Chewing or dipping tobacco is especially linked with the sport of baseball. Its traditions in baseball go back to the late Nineteenth Century when players chewed to keep their mouths moist on dusty fields. The habit hit its greatest stride after the surgeon general’s warning on cigarettes in the late 1950s. Now, players wishing to emulate their major league heroes are prone to take up chewing tobacco at an early age.
But the habit comes with a price tag. Individuals who chew tobacco are more susceptible to oral problems like bad breath, mouth dryness, or tooth decay and gum disease. Users also increase their risk for sexual dysfunction, cardiopulmonary disease (including heart attack and stroke) and, most notably, oral cancer.
Derived from the same plant, chewing and smoke tobacco share a common trait — they both contain the highly addictive drug nicotine. Either type of user becomes addictive to the nicotine in the tobacco; and like smoking, a chewing habit can be very difficult to stop.
Fortunately, many of the same treatments and techniques for quitting smoking can also be useful to break a chewing habit. Nicotine replacement treatments like Zyban or Chantix have been shown effective with tobacco chewing habits. Substituting the activity with gum chewing (non-nicotine, and with the sweetener Xylitol), or even an herbal dip can also be helpful.
Like other difficult processes, it’s best not to try to quit on your own. You should begin your efforts to quit with a consultation with your doctor or dentist — they will be able to prescribe cessation medications and provide other suggestions for quitting. You may also find it helpful to visit a behavioral health counselor or attend a tobacco cessation support group.
Rather than just one approach, successful quitting usually works best with a combination of techniques or treatments, and perhaps a little trial and error. The important thing is not to give up: the improvements to your dental health — and life — are worth it.
If you would like more information on quitting chewing tobacco, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Quitting Chewing Tobacco.”
If you’ve noticed a small sore in your mouth, it’s possible you have a non-contagious disease known as lichen planus. Although usually benign, it’s still a good idea to have it examined and monitored.
The condition is so named because its lesions are similar in appearance to lichen, the algae and fungi organism often found on rocks and trees. It’s believed to be a type of autoimmune disease, in which the body treats some of its own cells as foreign and reacts adversely to them. Certain medications and substances may also cause a lichenoid reaction. Besides the inner cheeks, gums or tongue, lichen planus may also appear on other skin or mucous surfaces on the wrists, legs or fingernails.
When it appears inside the mouth it usually resembles a lacy pattern of white lines or ulceration. Gum tissues may become red and inflamed, with some soreness after brushing or eating. Although there’s no known cure for lichen planus, it rarely causes serious problems — in fact, you may not even be aware you have the condition unless pointed out during a dental exam. It may, in time, fade away.
If the lesions do become bothersome (painful, itchy or overly-sensitive), there are some ways to ease discomfort: brushing with a soft toothbrush (to minimize irritation), flossing, and avoiding acidic or spicy foods and beverages which have been known to cause flare-ups. Managing stress is also helpful, and a topical steroid may be prescribed for more severe outbreaks.
Perhaps the greatest concern with lichen planus, though, is it may resemble more serious conditions, particularly oral cancer. The only way to be certain that it is a benign condition is to perform a biopsy on some of the affected tissue. If you notice a problem, be sure to visit us for a complete examination. And regardless of whether you have the condition or not, regular oral cancer screenings, as well as limits on alcohol consumption and stopping use of tobacco, will also reduce your risk of oral cancer.
Odds are if you have a case of lichen planus it isn’t causing you any problems. If it does cause you discomfort, though, you can take steps to ease your symptoms.