When Dr. Taylor asks you to stick out your tongue so he can grab it with a piece of gauze and move it around, you might feel a little silly. But to Dr. William Taylor, there is nothing silly about what he is doing. He is checking for signs of oral or esophageal cancer. Given Dr. Taylor’s history, this part of your exam is very personal to him.
You see, Dr. Taylor’s mother died of esophageal cancer when Will was just 5 years old. He remembers that her main symptom when she was finally diagnosed was that she had trouble swallowing. Because her cancer wasn’t discovered until it had advanced to level 4-5, she only lived about a year after it was detected.
43,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral/esophageal cancer this year. Only slightly more than half of these patients will still be alive in five years. There will be 8,000 deaths from oral cancer this year. 90% of oral cancer is from squamous cell carcinoma. In our country, a person dies of oral cancer every hour of every day.
Most folks realize that smoking is a huge contributor to oral cancer. That very much includes any type of smokeless tobacco (chew, dip). Excessive alcohol consumption is another contributing factor. Folks who have ill-fitting dentures or other dental appliances should be aware that persistent irritation can also be a precursor to cancer.
The fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients are those infected with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). Most of these patients are young, otherwise healthy, people who don’t smoke.
6 Symptoms You Should Not Ignore
Dr. Taylor and Dr. Martin check for signs of oral/esophageal cancer at every dental checkup. If you have any of these symptoms, have them checked out immediately.
- Persistent white patches
- Persistent red patches
- Sores that don’t seem to heal
- A lump or thickening of tissue in the mouth, throat, or neck
- A chronic sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing
Early Detection is Critical
In addition to regular visual checks, Drs. Martin and Taylor use a Velscope; an early cancer detection tool. Discovering any oral abnormalities early on offers more treatment options and can be lifesaving. The Velscope is a wireless, handheld scope that uses a florescent-type light to identify oral abnormalities early – often months or even years before they can be seen with the naked eye.
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