Ottumwa Regional Health Center Highlights Oral Cancer Awareness Month
April 27, 2023
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and Ottumwa Regional Healthcare Center (ORHC) wants everyone in its communities to avoid the potentially devastating effects of this disease. Approximately 54,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with oral cancer and 9,750 people die from the disease, annually.
Oral cancer (also known as mouth cancer or oral cavity cancer) is most often found in the tongue, the lips and the floor of the mouth. It also can begin in the gums, the minor salivary glands, the lining of the lips and cheeks, the roof of the mouth or the area behind the wisdom teeth.
Oral cancer most often occurs in people over the age of 40 and affects more than twice as many men as women. Most oral cancers are related to tobacco use, alcohol use (or both), or infection by the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Kurt Anderson, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat) physician who practices at ORHC and treats oral cancer, says understanding the risk factors, symptoms and early detection options are key to dodging the often devastating effects of oral cancer.
According to Dr. Anderson, a number of factors can put people at higher risk for oral cancer, with the use of alcohol and tobacco being the greatest risks. Statistics show that using them in combination increases risk 15 times over the use of one or the other. Oral cancer has historically affected people 40 years and older, but its incidence in those under 40 has increased. Other factors, according to Dr. Anderson, include infection with the sexually transmitted HPV16 virus and prolonged sun or tanning bed exposure, which is a factor for lip cancer.
Oral cancer patients experience a wide range of symptoms. Dr. Anderson points out these include a sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal or a lump or thickening on the lips or gums or in the mouth. Other visible symptoms include a white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsils or lining of the mouth. He adds that people suffering from oral cancer also experience bleeding, pain or numbness in the lip or mouth, a change in their voice, and loose teeth or dentures that no longer fit well. And some oral cancer patients may have trouble chewing or swallowing or moving the tongue or jaw, swelling of the jaw, and sore throat or the feeling that something is caught in the throat.
Dr. Anderson stresses that people can increase the chance of identifying changes or new growths early on by performing self-examinations regularly. He strongly recommends that people, particularly those who regularly use alcohol and/or tobacco, perform a 6-step oral cancer self-exam designed by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons:
Using a bright light and a mirror:
• Remove any dentures.
• Look and feel inside your lips and the front of your gums.
• Tilt your head back to inspect and feel the roof of your mouth.
• Pull your cheek out to inspect it and the gums in the back.
• Pull out your tongue and look at its top and bottom.
• Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in both sides of your neck, including under the lower jaw.
Dr. Anderson advises that people with identified risk factors should see their oral and maxillofacial surgeon or dentist for an oral examination at least once per year. With early detection, he says, patients improve the effectiveness of their treatment.
If people need to find a primary care provider, otolaryngologist or oral surgeon, they can visit