WGN Coverage on Oral Cancer

The Importance of Oral Cancer Diagnosis


Oral cancer is a dangerous disease that has a high mortality rate if not diagnosed early in life. WGN interviewed Dr. Margaret Mitchell about the importance of visiting your dentist if you recognize something in your mouth unusual. Detected early, oral cancer has many treatment options.

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Male Announcer: This is Chicago's very own WGN midday news. Male Newscaster: Coming up next, what you don't know about oral cancer. We're learning about this deadly disease and how you can prevent it. Allison: Welcome back. In today's focus on family it is oral cancer awareness month, and dentist Dr. Margaret Mitchell. Thank you so much for being here. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Thank you so much for inviting me. Allison: Oral cancer, not a cancer that we talk about very often. How common is it? Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Unfortunately, 35% of the US population this year will be diagnosed with oral cancer. Allison: That's unbelievable. Who is most likely to get it? Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Well, most likely it's a person that's over 50 years of age. Typically there's a history of tobacco use. Allison: Right. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: But we're seeing, unfortunately, 25% of the population that's diagnosed doesn't have any of these previous... Allison: So, like lung cancer, you don't have to have smoked to get it. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Right. Allison: Okay. Why is the death rate so high? Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Well, it's subtle. It's hard to find, it's hard to see, and, unfortunately, it's not detected usually until the later stages. By that time it's metastasized to other areas and then the prognosis is really just about 50% over the next five years... Allison: Now you brought some information along with you, some pictures that we want to take a look at. We've got some information. There we go. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Yeah. Allison: Can you explain that, Dr. Mitchell. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Yeah. I wanted to show people that these are subtle things that you couldn't really see in your own mouth. If you look on the left side of the screen you'll see that little kind of red dot over there. To most people's eye that is absolutely nothing. That's why it's important for your health care provider to be looking in your mouth. Allison: What is that? Dr. Margaret Mitchell: That is oral cancer. Allison: Okay, all right. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: That is oral cancer. Allison: What do we have up next, please? Dr. Margaret Mitchell: This is on the side of a person's tongue. Most people wouldn't even really see it. It's that white sort of area along the side of the tongue. That again, unfortunately, is oral cancer. Allison: Okay. Next, please. Do we have another picture? Okay. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: We do. If you'll see that gold crown, right above to the right, that little red spot there, that almost looks like somebody would have bit their cheek. If I would see something like that, in 14 days I would definitely have the patient back to make sure that that is gone, because unfortunately that lesion is oral cancer. Allison: Okay. Do you have any more pictures? Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Basically, I just brought those three. Allison: Okay, all right, good deal. Are there signs or symptoms that we as patients can look out for? Dr. Margaret Mitchell: If there's something in your mouth and it's not gone... A lot of people get cold sores. A lot of people get herpes. If there's something there that's in your mouth that's not gone within 14 days. Allison: Right. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Because all these things should clear within 14 days, go see your healthcare provider. Allison: I get these little bumps on my tongue sometimes that my mother used to tell me were lie bumps. If you told a lie you'd get one. I mean is something like that reason for alarm? Dr. Margaret Mitchell: If something isn't gone within 14 days my philosophy is we want to find out what it is and why it's persisting. Allison: Okay. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: There are many things that we can do. First of all... Allison: Quit smoking. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: ...quit smoking. Allison: Stop using tobacco, yeah. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: The other thing is very definitely have your healthcare provider do a thorough exam on a yearly basis. It's not scary. Don't be afraid to look. Allison: It doesn't hurt. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: It doesn't hurt. Don't be afraid to have somebody look. It's very important for your healthcare provider to be wearing a magnification loop so you can see, basically gloves, a mouth mirror, and then most importantly taking a piece of gauze and pulling your tongue out. Allison: Okay. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Feeling the side of your tongue, looking on the floor of the mouth, looking at the back of the throat, and actually feeling for any kinds of lumps or bumps. Allison: Before we go any further and before we run out of time, I want you to talk about HPV and how that's related to oral cancer. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Unfortunately, HPV is the human papillomavirus. We know that many viruses do cause cancer. Allison: Right. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: The HPV 16 and 18 cause cervical cancer. Allison: Okay. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: The HPV 16 causes oral cancer. Allison: All right. So, you recommend that women get the shot to help prevent oral cancer as well. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Absolutely. Allison: And what about for men? Should they get the shot as well? Dr. Margaret Mitchell: We say that also, because it can also cause venereal warts and it can also cause oral cancer. Allison: Okay. Is there anything down here you want to mention quickly, because we're just about out of time, very quickly. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Quickly, if something is seen in your mouth that looks suspicious, don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to go to see somebody to have somebody look. We can take a brush biopsy, send it into a lab. They can tell us if it's something that needs biopsied. The other thing that dentists can use sometimes is a VELscope. This is a light that will show a difference in fluorescence of tissue. Allison: Okay. That's just another technique that you have. Dr. Mitchell, I'm so sorry, but we're out of time. Thank you for joining us. Dr. Margaret Mitchell: Thank you, Allison. Allison: Very important information. To learn more about the dentist's tips and get some advice you can check out her website. It's mitchelldentalspa.com. For a link, logon to wgntv.com/midday.