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Posts for tag: oral cancer

By Drake Tollefson DDS
September 25, 2013
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   oral cancer  
StayAlerttoYourOralHealthDuringCancerTreatment

The weapons in the war against cancer are stronger and more effective than ever. But as in real war, those weapons can inflict harm on innocent bystanders — in the case of cancer treatment, other cells in your body. Your mouth in particular may develop side effects from these treatments.

The basic purpose of common cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation is to destroy and inhibit future growth of cancer cells. They're very effective to that end, but they can also destroy healthy cells caught in the “crossfire” with malignant cells or have an adverse effect on the body's immune system and its response to infection. Chemotherapy in particular negatively affects blood cells developing within bone marrow, which leads to lower resistance to infection.

These can have secondary effects on the mouth. Patients undergoing cancer treatment can develop painful ulcers and sores within the mouth cavity, and reduced immunity makes them more susceptible to tooth decay or gum disease (especially if risk factors were present before cancer treatment). Certain treatments may also cause dry mouth in some patients.

If you are being treated for cancer, or about to begin treatment, we can help mitigate these effects on your oral health. The first step is to perform a complete dental examination to identify any issues that may affect or be affected by the cancer treatment. We would then treat those conditions (if possible before cancer treatment begins).

We would also monitor your oral health during the treatment period and treat any complications that arise. Such treatments might include applications of high-potency fluoride to strengthen teeth against decay, anti-bacterial rinses to reduce the risk of bacterial growth, and medications to stimulate saliva if you should encounter dry mouth.

Fighting cancer will be your main priority. You should, however, remain aware of how cancer treatment may affect other aspects of your health. As your dentist, we will partner with you in seeing that your teeth and gums remain as healthy as possible during this process.

If you would like more information on caring for oral health during cancer treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”

By Drake Tollefson DDS
September 09, 2013
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral cancer  
EarlyDetectionisCriticaltoSurvivingOralCancer

While oral cancer makes up only a small portion of annual cancer cases, they are nonetheless a critical situation for those patients who develop them. Because cancer lesions in the mouth are easily mistaken for other kinds of sores or overlooked as they develop, they're often not detected until the later stages of the disease. The lack of early detection is a major factor in a dismal overall survival rate for oral cancer of 58%, five years after treatment. On the other hand, oral cancer diagnosed in earlier stages of development boast a much improved survival rate — up to 80% after five years.

The most important factor for early detection is your own observations while performing oral hygiene. A lesion can occur anywhere in the oral cavity (the mouth) or the pharynx (back of the mouth and throat). Of particular concern are abnormalities that appear on the lips and on or around the tongue. These abnormalities may first look like cold or canker sores, ulcers or white patches. If they don't begin to diminish in a few days, then you should certainly contact our office for an oral cancer exam (this exam is also part of your routine office visit).

While there are a number of diagnostic screening tests, the best method for achieving an accurate diagnosis is a biopsy. We would remove a small sample of the abnormal tissue (if the area is large enough to begin with) and have it analyzed microscopically. If the abnormality is small, the complete abnormality would be removed so that if it was determined to be benign or in a pre-cancerous stage, we would have already treated your condition by removing the abnormal tissue. If, however, the sample returns positive for cancer and we were unable to remove it totally during the biopsy, then a course of treatment must be developed utilizing other specialists in dental and medical oncology.

You should also be aware that there are actions you can take to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer in the first place: protect yourself from too much sun exposure; moderate your intake of alcoholic beverages; refrain from any tobacco use (smoking and smokeless) or risky sexual activity; and eat a plant-based, whole food diet. These actions coupled with vigilance for early detection can make a difference in your oral health — it may even save your life.

If you would like more information on oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”

By Drake Tollefson DDS
April 12, 2013
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   oral cancer  
FiveFactsAboutOralHealthDuringCancerTreatment

According to a recent study from the National Cancer Institute, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, the incidence of cancer is dropping and the survival rate is increasing. In general, the outlook for patients undergoing treatment for the disease is getting better and better. Unfortunately, it's possible that some essential lifesaving treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, can adversely affect your oral health. If you (or a loved one) need cancer treatment, however, there are some things you should know that can help minimize the possible complications and side effects.

  1. Chemotherapy and radiation are effective cancer treatments, but they may cause oral health problems. These therapies work by attacking cancer cells, but they can also damage healthy cells, including those in the salivary glands and the lining of the mouth. Common symptoms may include a dry mouth or uncomfortable mouth sores. Cancer patients may also be at higher risk for dental disease, especially tooth decay.
  2. Prevention is the best way to minimize these problems. It's important to have a complete dental evaluation before cancer treatment begins. Side effects often result when the mouth isn't healthy prior to the start of therapy — so if there's time for necessary dental treatment beforehand, it can be beneficial in the long run.
  3. Taking good care of the mouth is crucial at this time. During cancer treatment, proper brushing is more important than ever. A fluoride gel or antibacterial rinse may be prescribed to help prevent tooth decay. Prescription medications are sometimes recommended to alleviate dry mouth, but drinking plenty of water, chewing xylitol-containing gum, or using a soothing rinse of salt, water and baking soda can help too.
  4. A team approach is essential for the best care. This includes coordination between dentists and oncologists (cancer specialists), and sharing information about prescription and non-prescription drugs, medical histories and treatment plans.
  5. It's vital to understand and follow medical recommendations. This means not only getting the necessary treatments and taking prescribed medications, but also learning to recognize the warning signs of potential problems. With the support of our office, your oncologist, and caring family and friends, we can make cancer treatment as comfortable as possible and help obtain the best outcome.

If you would like more information about cancer treatment and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment to discuss your treatment options. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”

By Drake Tollefson DDS
September 10, 2012
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   oral cancer  
SevenThingsYouShouldKnowAboutOralCancer

Let's talk about oral cancer. Yes, it's a scary subject — but the truth is, the more you know about it, the better able you are to protect yourself.

  1. Who is more likely to get oral cancer? Because of your genetic disposition — heredity — men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer as women. African-Americans have a higher incidence than Caucasians. The disease is also related to aging, although in recent years many young people have been diagnosed with this disease.
  2. Are some habits related to development of oral cancer? Risk factors include use of tobacco in any form, both smoking and chewing, chronic exposure to sun, and consumption of alcohol. Moderate to heavy drinkers have a three to nine times greater risk than non-drinkers. Tobacco smokers are at five to nine times greater risk than non-users, and users of snuff or chewing tobacco are at four times greater risk than non-users.
  3. Where do most oral cancers occur? The most common areas are in the mouth itself, the lips, the tongue, and the pharynx (back of the mouth and throat).
  4. What are the statistics for survival after treatment for oral cancer? Conquering cancer depends most on early detection. Since most cases of oral cancer are discovered at a late stage, survival is poor, with less than 60% surviving five years after treatment. When oral cancers are detected early, the survival rate is more than 80%.
  5. What are some of the symptoms of oral cancer? Most oral cancers are “squamous” (small scale-shaped) cell carcinomas in the lining of the mouth. Signs of these cancers can be seen as white or red patches in the early pre-cancerous stage. These develop into an ulcer that does not heal.
  6. When should you seek medical help? If you notice color changes (white or red patches) or sores or ulcers anywhere in your mouth that do not heal within two or three weeks, go to your dentist for a checkup right away. Sometimes the sores resemble cold sores. A definitive diagnosis requires a tissue biopsy, in which a small piece of tissue is removed under anesthesia and taken to a lab for microscopic examination.
  7. What about regular routine examinations? An oral cancer examination should be part of your visit to our office. We will inspect your face, neck, lips and mouth for signs of cancer, feel the floor of the mouth and sides of the neck for any lumps, examine your tongue and the back of your throat. The American Cancer Society recommends a cancer related check-up annually for all individuals aged 40 and older and every three years for those between 20 and 29.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about oral cancer. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”

By Drake Tollefson DDS
August 14, 2011
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   oral cancer  

Often perceived as a cancer that only affects older adults who have a history of heavy tobacco and alcohol use, oral cancer is now on the rise among younger adults as well. New research has found a link between oral cancers, and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a disease that is primarily spread through oral sex.

Importance of Screening: If you're concerned about oral cancer, rest assured that our office routinely carries out a cancer screening exam on every patient. We have several ways to painlessly detect abnormal tissues in their earliest stages. In addition, please contact our office if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • White and/or red patches in the mouth or on the lips
  • A bleeding or ulcerated sore in the mouth
  • A sore anywhere in your mouth that doesn't heal
  • Persistent difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue

Although all of these symptoms can also be signs of less serious problems, be sure to alert our office if you notice any of the above changes.

Prevention: you can take a proactive role in preventing oral cancer by:

  • Conducting an oral self-exam at least once a month. Use a bright light and a mirror, look and feel your lips and front of your gums, the roof of your mouth, and the lining of your cheeks.
  • Scheduling regular exams in our office. The American Cancer Society recommends oral cancer screening exams every three years for people over age 20 and annually for those over age 40.
  • Refraining from smoking or using any tobacco products and drinking alcohol only in moderation.
  • Eating a well balanced diet.
  • Practicing safe sex.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss any questions you may have regarding oral cancer. Read more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Risk Factors for Oral Cancer.”