Oral Lesions and Cancer

Did you know that oral and throat cancer accounts for 2-3 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States? Every year more than 30,000 people in the U.S. find out that they have oral and/or throat cancer.

Cancer is a group of many diseases and happens when tissue cells become abnormal and reproduce without control or order. More than 100 types of cancer have been recorded. Tissue cells that reproduce when they are not needed form too much tissue. This extra mass of tissue is called a tumor. Tumors can be benign or malignant. A benign tumor is not cancerous and usually does not spread. They are not a threat to life. A malignant tumor is cancerous. These types of tumors are extremely harmful and can invade all body parts and spread to other parts of the body.

Cancerous lesions are only one type of lesion that affects the mouth, jaws, head and neck.  There are many other sores that can affect these areas and are quite common. Cysts (fluid filled lesions) are prevalent and can only be detected by clinical exam and x-rays. It is extremely important that you see your general dentist at least 2 times a year to make sure that you do not have any of these types of problems.  Early detection of cysts, tumors and other lesions of the mouth, lips, jaws, head and neck is essential because treatment works best before these diseases spread.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons like Dr. Falcone treat diseases of the mouth, lips, jaws, head and neck every day. He recommends that if you are a high-risk patient for cancer or other lesions, you be seen once a year by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for evaluation. Dr. Falcone also recommends that you do self-examination at least once a month. He can show you how to do this when you come to his office for examination.

You may ask, “How do I know if I am a high risk person?” Research has shown that there are a number of factors that contribute to development of oral, lip, throat, jaw, head or neck lesions. The most common factors include the use of tobacco and alcohol.  Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) has now also been implicated in causing oral and head and neck cancer. Other factors include poor mouth hygiene, irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures, rough surfaces on teeth, poor nutrition, exposure to sunlight, or a combination of the above. Those at an especially high risk are males over the age of 40 who are combination heavy drinkers and smokers, or users of smokeless tobacco. Remember that even if you do not have teeth and wear dentures, it is still very important to see your general dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon once a year!

Dr. Falcone recommends that if you see the following problems start to occur in your mouth; schedule an appointment for evaluation.

  1. Reddish patches
  2. Whitish patches
  3. A sore that fails to heal or bleeds easily
  4. A lump or thickening of the tissues
  5. Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
  6. Difficulty in chewing or swallowing

If Dr. Falcone feels that something looks suspicious, a biopsy may be  recommended. A biopsy procedure involves the removal of the suspicious lesion or a portion of the lesion. This tissue is then sent to the pathology laboratory to be examined microscopically so that an accurate diagnosis of the problem can be made. The biopsy report not only helps Dr. Falcone establish a diagnosis, but also allows him to make a treatment plan specifically designed for you and the type of lesion diagnosed.

Self-examination is one of the ways to help your general dentist and oral and maxillofacial surgeon detect oral, jaw, lip, head and neck lesions. To complete an oral and head and neck self-examination use a bright light and a mirror and do the following:

  1. Look at your face, lips, ears, scalp, nose and neck and note any cuts, sores, lumps or bumps. Use an additional mirror to look in hard to reach areas such as the top of your head and behind your ears.
  2. Remove your dentures.
  3. Look at and feel the insides of your lips and the front of your gums.
  4. Tilt your head back or use an additional mirror (compact mirror) to look at and feel the roof of your mouth.
  5. Pull out your cheeks to see the inside of them and also to see the back gums.
  6. Pull out your tongue and inspect all sides of it.
  7. Feel for lumps, bumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in both sides of your neck and underneath the lower jaw.

Remember that this exam is not a substitute for a yearly check-up by your dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Please do not ignore any suspicious lumps, bumps or sores. If you discover something, make an appointment with Dr. Falcone for a prompt examination. Early treatment may well be the key to a fast and
complete recovery.