Posts for tag: oral cancer

SteelyDanFoundersDeathHighlightsImportanceofEarlyCancerDetection

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.”

By R. Tracy Durrett, D.D.S.
February 17, 2019
Category: Oral Health
WhileUsuallyBenignLichenPlanusLesionsShouldStillbeExamined

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.

If you would like more information on lichen planus and similar oral conditions, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By R. Tracy Durrett, D.D.S.
October 30, 2013
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral cancer  
ReduceYourRiskofOralCancerWithaHealthyWholeFoodDiet

While genetics certainly plays a role in a person's susceptibility to various forms of cancer (including oral cancer), there are lifestyle factors that also play a role.

In the case of developing oral cancer, there are a number of prominent lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your risk: protect yourself from too much sun exposure; avoid the use of any type of tobacco (smoke and smokeless); limit your intake of alcoholic beverages to a moderate level; abstain from risky sexual behavior; and eat a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as other whole foods.

That last lifestyle change not only reduces your level of negative exposure from the environment, it may also provide a positive effect as well. For example, normal cellular function produces unstable molecules known as “free radicals” that can damage the DNA structure within the cell; this could be a precursor to the development of cancer. There are natural substances, however, that can help protect cells against the damage caused by free radicals. These are known as “antioxidants” and they are abundant in many plant-based foods. You, of course, may know them by other names: vitamins, carotenoids (found in red and orange fruits and vegetables) or fiber, to name a few.

A well-balanced diet can provide these and other kinds of cancer-fighting nutrients. And, it's important that you eat the source of these nutrients — fresh plant-based foods. Studies have shown that dietary supplements can't match the effectiveness of actually eating fruit and vegetables.

Besides lowering your cancer risk, a plant-based, whole food diet will also result in better oral health. Diets heavy in processed foods with high amounts of sugar or other bacteria-friendly substances inhibit good oral health.

If you would like more information on the role of diet in reducing your risk to 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.”

By R. Tracy Durrett, D.D.S.
September 23, 2013
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   oral cancer  
StayAlerttoYourOralHealthDuringCancerTreatment

The weapons in the war against cancer are stronger and more effective than ever. But as in real war, those weapons can inflict harm on innocent bystanders — in the case of cancer treatment, other cells in your body. Your mouth in particular may develop side effects from these treatments.

The basic purpose of common cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation is to destroy and inhibit future growth of cancer cells. They're very effective to that end, but they can also destroy healthy cells caught in the “crossfire” with malignant cells or have an adverse effect on the body's immune system and its response to infection. Chemotherapy in particular negatively affects blood cells developing within bone marrow, which leads to lower resistance to infection.

These can have secondary effects on the mouth. Patients undergoing cancer treatment can develop painful ulcers and sores within the mouth cavity, and reduced immunity makes them more susceptible to tooth decay or gum disease (especially if risk factors were present before cancer treatment). Certain treatments may also cause dry mouth in some patients.

If you are being treated for cancer, or about to begin treatment, we can help mitigate these effects on your oral health. The first step is to perform a complete dental examination to identify any issues that may affect or be affected by the cancer treatment. We would then treat those conditions (if possible before cancer treatment begins).

We would also monitor your oral health during the treatment period and treat any complications that arise. Such treatments might include applications of high-potency fluoride to strengthen teeth against decay, anti-bacterial rinses to reduce the risk of bacterial growth, and medications to stimulate saliva if you should encounter dry mouth.

Fighting cancer will be your main priority. You should, however, remain aware of how cancer treatment may affect other aspects of your health. As your dentist, we will partner with you in seeing that your teeth and gums remain as healthy as possible during this process.

If you would like more information on caring for oral health during cancer treatment, 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”

August 29, 2013
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   oral cancer  
AreYouatRiskforOralCancer

Oral cancer accounts for approximately 3% of cancers in men and 2% in women. That may not sound like a lot, but the disease often isn't detected until it has progressed to its later stages when it's harder to treat and the outlook for survival is significantly diminished.

The main areas where oral carcinomas (cancers) occur are:

  • the tongue (most common location, particularly the sides and underneath)
  • the lip (especially the lower one),
  • the oral cavity (the mouth), and
  • the pharynx (back of mouth and throat).

Risk Factors You Can't Control

Even if you can't change these risks, awareness helps raise your vigilance in order to catch potential problems early when treatment options and positive outcomes are greatest.

  • Heredity
  • Aging — More than 90% of all oral cancers occur in individuals over 40. However, the incidence among younger people has been on the uptick recently, perhaps related to lifestyle behaviors.
  • Race — African Americans have a higher incidence of oral cancer than Caucasians.

Risk Factors You Can Address

  • Smoking and chewing tobacco — Smokers are at five to nine times greater risk and snuff and tobacco chewers at about four times greater risk
  • Alcohol — Moderate to heavy drinkers are at three to nine times greater risk; the higher the alcohol content, the greater the risk
  • Chronic sun exposure — Often connected with lip cancers.
  • Viral infections — Namely the human papilloma virus “HPV 16,” which has been linked to sexual transmission (oral sex) and cervical cancer in women.

One way you can address these risk factors is to have a diet rich in fruits/vegetables, which are high in antioxidants because they been found to have a protective effect against a variety of cancers, including oral.

As part of your routine oral hygiene, you should be closely monitoring any non-healing changes in your mouth (e.g., ulcers or sores, white or red patches on the tongue). And rest assured that as part of your regular check-ups, our office performs a comprehensive visual screening for signs of oral cancer.

If you would like more information about oral cancer prevention and detection, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Oral Cancer” and “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”