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Help Us Make Oral Cancer History

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, in honor of that we are hosting a Free Oral Cancer Screening on April 16th. The incidence of oral cancer is increasing at an alarming rate due to a new HPV. Doctors in the scientific community are already using the word epidemic to describe the situation. In the past we had been educating the public about how tobacco and alcohol use increases their chances of being diagnosed with oral cancer. Now the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population are young, non-smoking individuals due to the new HPV.

So, what is cancer?  The body is made up of trillions of living cells.  Normal body cells grow, divide into new cells, and die in an orderly fashion.  Cancer begins when cells in a part of the body start to grow out of control.  There are many kinds of cancer, but they all start because of out-of-control growth of abnormal cells.  Each specific cancer is identified based on where it starts.

Oral cancer is cancer that starts in the mouth, this includes the lips, the inside lining of the lips and cheeks, the teeth, the gums, the front two-thirds of the tongue, the floor of the mouth below the tongue and the bony roof of the mouth.  The oral cavity plays an important role in helping you breathe, talk, eat, chew and swallow.  There are also important salivary glands throughout the oral cavity helping you make saliva that keeps your mouth moist and helps you digest food.

Leukoplakia and erythroplakia are terms used to describe certain types of abnormal tissue that can be seen in the mouth or throat.  Leukoplakia is a white or gray patch. Erythroplakia is a flat or slightly raised, red area that often bleeds easily if it is scraped.  There are also Erythroleukoplakia which are patches with both red and white areas.  The most frequent cause of leukoplakia and erythroplakia are smoking and chewing tobacco.  Poorly fitting dentures that rub against the tongue or inside the cheek can also be a cause, however, sometimes there may be no obvious cause.  According to the American Cancer Society most cases of leukoplakia do not develop into cancer, but as many as 1 out of 5 leukoplakias are either cancerous when first found or have pre-cancerous changes that eventually progress to cancer if not properly treated.  Erythroplakia and erythroleukoplakia are less common but are usually more serious.  Most of these red lesions turn out to be cancer when they are biopsied or will develop into cancer later.