Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of oral cancer, and makes up about 90% of all oral cancer diagnoses. Squamous cells are the flat cells that line the tissues inside your mouth; when these cells become abnormal, squamous cell carcinoma is the result. Here's what you need to know about this condition.
Why does this cancer develop?
Squamous cell carcinoma develops when your cells become abnormal, but why does this happen? There are many reasons. Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and having HPV infection are considered the main causes, but other things also increase the risk of your cells becoming abnormal. Excessive sun exposure and exposure to x-rays can also cause this type of cancer. You can also develop this cancer without having any of these risk factors since doctors still haven't discovered every single cause of cancer.
Where can it develop?
Squamous cell carcinoma can affect any of the tissues inside of your mouth. It can form on the inside of your cheeks, on your tongue, or on the roof of your mouth. It can also form on your gums, underneath your tongue, or even in your salivary glands.
How do you know you have it?
This type of cancer appears as a white or red lesion or patch inside your mouth. At first, you may think it's a canker sore, if you notice the cancer at all. Squamous cell carcinomas aren't usually painful, at least not until they grow and spread, so you have to see it to know it's there. It's hard to see all of the areas where this cancer can grow, since looking underneath your own tongue is challenging, to say the least.
You can't get a good look underneath your tongue, but someone can: your dentist. During your regular dental checkups your dentist will check your entire mouth for signs of oral cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma. This is why seeing your dentist regularly is so important; it could mean the difference between life and death.
How common is it?
The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that around 43,250 Americans will develop oral cancer this year, and most of those people will have squamous cell carcinoma. That sounds like a lot of people, but compared to other types of cancer, this type is fairly rare. Squamous cell carcinomas only account for between 2% and 3% of all cancer diagnoses.
Can it be treated?
Squamous cell carcinoma is usually treated with surgery, and then radiation is used if all of the cancer can't be removed surgically. Chemotherapy is only used in patients with advanced squamous cell carcinoma who haven't been helped by surgery or radiation.
Oral cancer isn't always discovered in time, so these treatments don't always work. Only half of people live for another five years after their diagnosis. Your chances are better if the cancer is discovered early, before it has a chance to spread to other areas of your body.
How often should you be screened?
You need to see your dentist once per year. During this visit, your dentist will check your mouth for signs of cancer, and if any signs are discovered, you will undergo a biopsy. According to the American Dental Association, only 60% of Americans see their dentist at least once per year. If you are part of the 40% that doesn't see your dentist often enough, you need to make an appointment right away.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of oral cancer. Oral cancer is hard to detect, and by the time diagnosis is finally made, it's often too late. Your dentist at a place like Valley Oak Dental Group Inc can screen you for signs of oral cancer, so it's important to not skip your appointments.