Michael Douglas Shares his Battle with Oral Cancer

Research recently released by FAIR health, an independent, nonprofit organization shows a huge rise in health insurance claims, 61 percent to be exact, for oral cancer among men from 2011 to 2015. In the past, oral cancer has been linked predominately to smoking and drinking, but with a decline in smoking rates, oral cancer statistics have continued to rise. Scientists believe this concerning trend is due to a rise in those affected by the HPV virus.

News is coming from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and other English-speaking nations around the world. Men suffering from tumors in the mouth and throat caused the Human Papilloma Virus, most often spread by oral sex, are surpassing the number of women affected by cervical cancer caused by the same virus.

An estimated 50,000 people in America will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Actor Michael Douglas spoke at a medical conference in NYC about his battle with oral cancer. It started for him with pain and soreness in his mouth on the gums behind his molars. He shared how he was misdiagnosed three times before finding out the truth. After trying antibiotics through his doctor, seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist and then a periodontist, he was finally diagnosed with stage IV oropharynx cancer.

Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS, MS, Board Certified Diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery says,

“We recommend oral cancer self-examinations at least monthly. Your mouth is one of the first places your body uses to warn you that something is going on. This is why regular visits to the dentist are so important. It’s not just about cleaning; it’s also about being familiar with each patient’s mouth so that we can spot any changes early enough to possibly save their lives.”

Some of the signs to look out for include

-Red, white or speckled patches in the mouth

-A sore or sores that don’t heal and bleed easily

-Lumps or thickening areas of the skin inside the mouth

-Numbness or loss of feeling in the face, mouth or neck

-A chronic sore throat

-Difficulty speaking, chewing or swallowing

Pain or soreness is certainly one way to know something is happening that shouldn’t be, but that’s not always the case. Changes to the tissue can be experienced in the mouth on the lips, cheeks, palate and gum tissue. When discovered during the early stages, these cancers have an 80-90% survival rate according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. The foundation states that low public awareness is one of the reasons so many are discovering their diagnosis so late into the process. And it’s not just a problem here in America. New cases exceed 640,000 each year worldwide.

Pollock shared with us tips to perform an oral cancer self-exam. First feel the sides of the neck for any lumps or changes. Then, check the insides of the cheeks and lips for any changes, sores or discoloration. Next, evaluate the tongue and the roof and floor of your mouth for any changes. If you notice anything out of the ordinary schedule a visit with your dentist immediately.

The American Cancer Society recommends getting screened for oral cancer every three years. Those over 40 should be screened yearly as the risk increases greatly. In fact, men over the age of 50 are at the greatest risk for developing oral cancer. Awareness and early detection are key. Thanks to public figures like Douglas, speaking out and spreading the word can and will help save lives.