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Oral Cancer – Part 4

5.19.16 in General

So what do we do when we see a “lesion” of the head or neck that raises our suspicions? Maybe the history of its presentation or duration doesn’t seem quite right, or we have given a sore 2 weeks to heal, and it doesn’t. What’s next?

Though we may be “fairly sure” that a lesion is benign, we cannot make that diagnosis by observation with the naked eye. We must look at the cellular make up of tissue to rule malignancy in or out. This is done by what is commonly known as a biopsy. This merely means examining a specimen of tissue at the microscopic level, to determine its cellular nature.

Obtaining this specimen of tissue can be done a number of ways. Sometimes, swabbing the surface of mucosa, and sending the cells we wiped off to a laboratory, is adequate for a diagnosis. Other times it may be necessary to cut a piece of tissue off, or syringe up cells with a needle biopsy.

The tissues and cells are then observed, described, and visualized at a microscopic level, to label the quantity, types and shapes of the cells seen. This can only be done in a laboratory setting.

If there are abnormal cells present, and they fit a definition of malignant, then the cancer is classified or staged, as in the TNM system that we spoke of in prior blogs.

The health care providers who treat malignancies are known as Oncologists. Some may specialize in using radiation to eradicate the cancer, such as Radiation Oncologists. Some may specialize in using chemicals to “kill” the cancer cells, known as chemotherapy. And sometimes Oncologic Surgeons need to surgically removed tumor.

The sad fact is that everyone who is reading this blog knows someone who has had cancer. If it is not you, yourself, it is a family member or close friend. And so we are all familiar with the difficulties related to trying to kill cancer cells. The biggest problem is that we use poison to kill cancer, and that poison will also kill our normal healthy cells. That is why people undergoing cancer treatments experience, nausea, hair loss, mouth sores, inability to fight infection, and many other “side effects”.

But, make no mistake, we are gaining on this terrible disease that we call cancer. There is reason for hope. Each day we learn new things about preventing, eliminating and treating cancer. The success rates are going up. And for whatever reason they are, we should celebrate that and learn from it.

And what we should learn is that if our own behaviors are changed in a way to prevent getting cancer, then make that change for yourself and family. If an early diagnosis of cancers means less morbidity and mortality, then get yourself to your physicians and dentist regularly. And if certain therapies are known to treat cancer successfully, then support and pursue those therapies. We don’t have to be a board certified Oncologists, but we do have to take responsibility for our health and our children’s health, if we want to beat this monster called cancer.
Through the summer we will run a series on The Oral-systemic connection- how the health of our mouth relates to our overall health. So, stay tuned in, and keep smiling. Dr W

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