After undergoing a lumpectomy, Karen McGowan of Swedesboro faced questions that thousands of women face every year. Will I need chemo? Radiation? Some other treatment? And because it was March 2020, another question was on her mind. Would she be comfortable going to a hospital for treatment just as COVID-19 was arriving in South Jersey?
Over 65,000 Americans are diagnosed with cancer of the head or neck annually, making it the sixth most common cancer in the country. It’s also one of the most preventable with changes to your lifestyle habits.
Evaluating Your Risk
- Nearly all forms of cancer have a genetic component in a patient’s risk profile. However, in the case of oral cancer, hereditary cases are extremely rare.
- Instead, lifestyle choices are the largest indicator for an elevated risk of oral cancer, which predominantly affects men. It is also difficult to detect, often leading to more complicated prognoses and treatment plans.
- Two lifestyle factors that have an outsized effect on oral cancer are tobacco and alcohol use. These substances both contain carcinogens, chemicals that promote the creation of cancer-causing mutations in the cells. If used together, alcohol and tobacco increase the risks even further.
- There is no national recommendation for oral cancer screenings; however, regular appointments with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist are encouraged. This is even more important in the case of a family history of oral cancer, or in the presence of multiple risk factors.
- During the screening, an ENT specialist will look for small changes under the skin, especially around the lymph nodes. If they notice a growth or suspect a change, they will recommend an X-ray or MRI. An ENT specialist is ideal for this process, as they have the expertise necessary to identify those small changes which can be a sign of cancer.
- Basic oral cancer screenings are also conducted by many dentists during annual visits, but this may not always be enough. Oral cancer symptoms and markers can often be mistaken for tooth pain or another innocuous ailment, so regular dental check-ups can help with early detection, but a full screening should be part of your health plan.
The Value of Lifestyle Changes
- When taking steps to decrease your risk for oral cancer, tobacco cessation should be your first step. There is no acceptable amount—or form—of tobacco use. Whether someone is a smoker or prefers chewing tobacco, use of the substance immediately has an impact on cells within the mouth.
- Within weeks of quitting smoking/tobacco use your risk begins to decline. Then, within 10 to 20 years after quitting, your risk returns to a normal level.
- The Inspira Quit Center is here for you. Whether you are trying to quit for the first time, or the tenth time, we can help you quit smoking, chewing or vaping. Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialists offer one-to-one counseling and lead classes. Nicotine replacement therapy can be provided free of charge. Our trained experts understand the science behind physical and emotional nicotine addiction and evidence based methods to quit.