October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This month is set aside to educate, inform and bring attention to this dreaded disease. As with all cancers, early diagnosis is key to living a longer and healthier life.

Health officials estimate 300-500 new cases of breast cancer each year. The percentage of women diagnosed with breast cancer in The Bahamas under the age of 50 is 48%. The average age of diagnosis in The Bahamas is 42. In the United States it is 62. This means that Bahamian wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and friends are finding out about their cancer later and dying younger. As you can see, information on early detection is key.

In this column we will discuss cancers of the oral cavity.

Oral cavity cancer is less prevalent than breast cancer in our society yet still deadly serious. According to the latest WHO data published in 2018 Oral Cancer Deaths in The Bahamas reached 14 deaths. The Bahamas is ranked 89th in the world.

Oral cancer appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not go away. Oral cancer; which includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses and pharynx (throat), can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. More than 90% of oral cancers occur in the lining of the mouth, tongue and lips. They are usually referred to as squamous cell carcinomas.

There are four main types of oral cancers:

Tongue cancer occurs in the front area of the tongue. The most common type of tongue cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer is found in many of the body’s tissues, including: the skin and respiratory tract.

Lip cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form on or in the lips. Most lip cancers start in squamous cells (outer lining or skin) and may spread into deeper tissues. Patients with lip cancer may notice abnormal patches of white tissue, or other types of sores on the lips that will not heal. Sometimes lip cancer does not present any symptoms at all, although it may be found during a routine dental exam.

Gum cancer is often mistaken for gingivitis because it begins in the upper or lower gums. Eventually lesions or tumors form, and dentists typically are the first to notice signs of gum cancer during routine dental examinations.

Jaw cancer typically originates in the jawbones (called primary jaw cancer), although cancers from other tissues can spread to the jaw (called secondary jaw cancer).

Risk Factors: A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease. Having risk factors; however, does not necessarily mean you will get cancer. Therefore, it’s important to know your own risk factors and discuss any concerns with your doctor.

Oral cancer is more than twice as common in men than in women. As people age; however, they may be more susceptible to oral cancer. About one-quarter of patients who develop oral cancer are younger than age 55, but children are rarely diagnosed with the disease.

Some of the greatest risk factors for oral cancer include:

  • Tobacco use
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Exposure to natural sunlight or artificial light (such as by using tanning beds) over long periods of time

Other risk factors:

  • Being a male
  • Being 60 years or older
  • Having a weakened immune system

As we continue to bring attention to all cancers in our community, keep in mind that oral cancer is also dangerous. See your dentist on a regular basis and pay attention to your oral health. The American Cancer Society recommends oral cancer screening exams every 3 years for persons over age 20 and annually for those over age 40. During your next dental appointment, ask your dentist to perform an oral exam. Early detection can improve the chance of successful treatment.

Dr. Kendal V. O. Major is Founder and CEO of Center for Specialized Dentistry which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in Nassau and Freeport. He is the first Bahamian Specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He also is a certified Fastbraces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, Nassau at (242)325-5165 or [email protected].




White cancerous patch on side of tongue (Leukoplakia)

Cancer of the soft plate

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