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SteelyDanFoundersDeathHighlightsImportanceofEarlyCancerDetection

Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.

As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.

Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.

Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.

Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome.┬áIf you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”

By Eric Romano DDS
November 15, 2016
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral cancer  
KeepanEyeonYourOralHealthduringCancerTreatment

A third of people treated for cancer develop adverse side effects within their mouth. But while these effects can be devastating to teeth and gums, there are ways to minimize the damage.

Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation work by destroying cancer cells. Unfortunately, they may also destroy normal cells. The accumulation of this “collateral damage” ultimately affects uninvolved areas and organ systems of the body. Chemotherapy, for example, can interrupt bone marrow blood cell formation and decrease the body's ability to fight infection.

These ripple effects can eventually reach the mouth. It's not uncommon for cancer patients to develop mouth sores or see an increase in tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The treatments may also inhibit saliva flow: because saliva neutralizes acid and provides other benefits that lower disease risk, dental disease is more likely to develop when the salivary flow is reduced.

The first step to minimizing these effects is to improve oral health before cancer treatment begins. An unhealthy mouth vastly increases the chances for problems during treatment. Cooperating with your cancer physicians, we should attempt to treat any diseases present as soon as possible.

During cancer treatment we should also monitor your oral health and intervene when appropriate. If at all possible, you should continue regular dental visits for cleaning and checkups, and more so if conditions warrant. We can also protect your teeth and gums with protective measures like antibacterial mouth rinses, saliva stimulation or high-potency fluoride applications for your enamel.

What's most important, though, is what you can do for yourself to care for your mouth during the treatment period. Be sure to brush daily with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste. You can use a weak solution of one-quarter teaspoon each of salt and baking soda to a quart of warm water to rinse your mouth and soothe any sores. And be sure to drink plenty of water to reduce dry mouth.

While you're waging your battle against cancer, stay vigilant about your teeth and gums. Taking care of them will ensure that after you've won your war against this malignant foe your mouth will be healthy too.

If you would like more information on taking care of your teeth and gums 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 Eric Romano DDS
August 29, 2014
Category: Oral Health
AWake-UpCallinMajorLeagueBaseball

What would it take to get you to give up tobacco? For major league baseball player Addison Reed, it took the death of his former coach, Tony Gwynn. Gwynn, a Hall-of-Famer who played for the San Diego Padres in addition to coaching at San Diego State, was just 54 years old when he died of oral cancer. As soon as Reed heard the sad news, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ relief pitcher says he knew what he needed to do: He took every can of smokeless tobacco he owned and dumped them all in the trash.

“It’s just become a habit, a really bad habit,” Reed told an interviewer at MLB.com. “It was something I always told myself I would quit.” But quitting took him many years — in fact, Reed admitted that he first started using smokeless tobacco as a junior in high school.

People begin using tobacco — in the form of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or smokeless types (snuff, chewing tobacco, or dip) — for a variety of reasons. One major draw is that they see others doing it. And, while smoking is prohibited in most all Major League venues, the use of smokeless tobacco has remained fairly widespread.

Smokeless tobacco isn’t a safe alternative to cigarettes. According to the National Cancer Institute, it contains 28 carcinogenic agents. It increases the risk not only for oral and pancreatic cancer, but also for heart disease, gum disease, and many other oral problems. It’s also addictive, containing anywhere from 3.4 to 39.7 milligrams of nicotine per gram of tobacco — and its use has been on the rise among young adults.

But now the tide may be turning. After Addison Reed’s announcement, his former college teammate Stephen Strasburg (now a pitcher for the Washington Nationals) resolved that he, too, would give up tobacco. “[The] bottom line is, I want to be around for my family,” said Strasburg. Mets left-hander Josh Edgin has vowed to try quitting as well. It’s even possible that Major League Baseball will further restrict the use of smokeless tobacco at games.

What does this mean for you? It may just be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for… to stop using tobacco. Dentists have seen how quickly oral cancer can do its devastating work — and we can help you when you’re ready to quit. The next time you come in for a checkup, ask us how. Your teeth and gums will thank you — and your family will too.

By Eric Romano DDS
September 23, 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.”