Local dental professionals raise awareness of oral cancers as National Cancer Awareness Month draws to a close
As National Cancer Awareness Month draws to a close, local dental professionals Dr. Larry Tilley and Dr. Dylan Holtman of Calhoun Dental Associates wanted to take the opportunity to raise awareness about the dangers of oral cancer and discuss the treatment, detection and the prevalence of the disease in the Gordon County area.
Oral cancer, which is classified with the head and neck cancers, is described as any cancerous tissue that develops, grows and spreads throughout the oral cavity.
According to the U.S. government’s cancer statistics database, there have been nearly 50,000 estimated new cases of oral cancer so far in 2017, with an estimated 9,700 of those resulting in death.
Symptoms of the disease include ulcers anywhere in the mouth that seemingly aren’t healing, unusual changes in the surfaces of the mouth, red or white patches or lesions on the gums or tongue or random bleeding from the mouth.
Although oral cancer can stem from many occurrences, the most common causes are heavy tobacco and alcohol usage, an overall lack of dental hygiene or irritation from ill-fitting dentures. Infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is also responsible for many cases of cervical cancer and a commonly passed STD, has also emerged as one of the primary risk factors.
According to Tilley and Holtman, local citizens are especially at risk for the disease because of the heavy reliance on tobacco, particularly the chewing and smokeless variety.
“Over the years, there have been numerous cases in the area where I have been the first person to discover it,” Tilley said. “What we really fear around here is children and teenagers starting to use chewing tobacco, or smoking and drinking, at an early age, which really puts someone at risk.”
When it comes to detection of its symptoms and treatment of oral cancer, dentists and dental professionals are often the first line of defense.
“Every initial exam, especially when it is a new patient, we check for any abnormalities,” Tilley said. “Often times you will observe swelling, discoloration, a lack of symmetry in the mouth or enlarged lymph nodes. Those are all signs that someone could have oral cancer.”
The five-year survival rate of oral cancer is around 64.5 percent, which can be significantly lower than the survival rate of other forms of cancer. As with most diseases, the key to battling though the disease is early detection. Tilley and Holtman advise getting checked often and properly by your dentist.
“It is so important that we detect it early,” Holtman said. “The survival rate goes up to nearly 83 percent if we are able to catch it in its early stages. If it spreads and metastasizes, that survival rate