April is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month. In recognition of this somber subject, I want to share some advice and facts with the readers of Saucon Source. The first is that oral cancers are on the rise, which is obviously bad news. The good news is that with early detection they can be treated quite successfully. If not diagnosed early, the consequences of oral cancer become much more serious and can even be fatal.
So where does oral cancer come from and what are the risk factors? What is oral cancer? Technically it is a squamous cell carcinoma inside the mouth, on the floor of the mouth, tongue, hard and soft palate, back of the throat or just about anywhere in the mouth. Squamous cell carcinoma refers to a cancer whose origin is the cells on the surface of all oral tissue. What causes it? The biggest cause is tobacco use: smoking of any kind, chewing or dipping. The next major cause is excessive consumption of alcohol. So, a person who smoked regularly for many years and was no stranger to more than one or two drinks at a time is at an elevated risk level. Another cause of oral cancers is the human papilloma virus, or HPV. Yes, that’s the same virus that causes cancer elsewhere in the body. HPV vaccines for early teenagers and young adults will help protect them for the rest of their lives.
So how is this type of cancer detected? You must be examined by a dentist. Get yourself a checkup appointment, and if the dentist or staff does not perform the screening, ask them to do so. If there is something not quite right, the dentist should request a biopsy from an oral surgeon or ENT specialist. If you have been experiencing a sore throat that will not go away, or see something in your mouth or on your lips, get checked out.
Why is this so important? Your life may depend upon an oral cancer screening. If oral cancers are caught early, survival rates are very good, but if left alone due to the thinking that it will go away, treatment is often painful and disfiguring, with many nasty side effects. What are the possible treatments? Surgical removal, radiation and/or chemotherapy. None of these are easy, and they are very, very unpleasant to say the least.
What do I have to do to be prudent and act proactively to prevent these problems? If you have never been screened, give us a call and we would be glad to do an oral cancer screening for no charge. LVHN has some incredibly talented doctors and staff that can manage this serious problem, as well as any place in the country. You cannot put a price on “peace of mind.”
Clarke Woodruff, DMD, has lived and worked in the Lehigh Valley most of his life. He left the region to complete dental school in Philadelphia and to serve four years as an officer/dentist in the U.S. Air Force. A member of Freedom High School’s first graduating class, Dr. Woodruff earned his undergraduate degree from Lehigh University. He received his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree (DMD) from the University of Pennsylvania in 1976 and opened his Hellertown dental practice at 800 Main St., Suite 102, in 1980. He was named a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry in 1987, after successfully completing a comprehensive examination and more than 500 hours of continuing education. Dr. Woodruff maintains active membership in the American Dental Association, Pennsylvania Dental Association, Lehigh Valley Dental Society and American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. In addition to his private practice, Dr. Woodruff is devoted to the education of tomorrow’s dentists as current chair of the Department of Dental Medicine at Lehigh Valley Health Network. His outside interests include vintage race cars, woodworking and singing. Find him on Facebook and check out his website. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 610-838-6597 or contact him via email.