It’s April!! And, anyone who is a sports fan knows what that means, Major League Baseball is back!! But, did you know April is also Oral Cancer Awareness Month? And, since baseball and tobacco have such a synonymous relationship, raising awareness of oral cancer during April makes sense.
Baseball and Tobacco
The longtime relationship between baseball and tobacco started in the 19th century, when both tobacco and baseball became wildly popular. Players chewed tobacco because they found it kept their mouths moist on the dry dusty fields and the tobacco spit helped soften the leather of their gloves. And, players have been tucking tobacco between their gums and cheeks ever since. It’s a ritual that has long permeated the game, and a dangerous one at that.
This dangerous ritual has definitely had some devastating effects on some of baseball’s greatest players. The Sultan of Swat, the Great Bambino, and one the greatest baseball players in history, Babe Ruth, died at age 53 of throat cancer, after decades of dipping and chewing. Bill Tuttle, American League outfielder, died after a 5 year battle with oral cancer. Before his death, Tuttle waged a campaign against the use of chewing tobacco after the cancer left him disfigured. Brett Butler, former Major League center fielder, became a passionate advocate against tobacco after he was diagnosed with tonsil cancer in 1996. Former Major League pitching great, Curt Schilling attributed his oral cancer to three decades of chewing tobacco. And, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died at age 54, after a lengthy fight with salivary gland cancer. Gwynn attributed his cancer to longtime smokeless tobacco use.
Smokeless Tobacco and Oral Cancer
Smokeless tobacco contains 28 carcinogens and there is a definitive link between the use of tobacco products and the development of oral cancer. According to Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 49,750 people in the US will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2017. This includes those cancers that occur in the mouth itself, in the very back of the mouth known as the oropharynx, and on the exterior lip of the mouth.
One of the most troubling aspects of the disease is the survival rate. The survival rate of oral cancers are much lower than that of more well-known cancers, like breast or cervical cancer, or Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A major reason for those discouraging odds is that oral cancer generally isn’t found until it has reached a later stage of development. As a result, it’s harder to treat successfully. Therefore, early diagnosis of oral cancer is very important — and why it’s vital to become aware of possible warning signs of the disease.
Warning signs of oral cancers include:
- A sore that won’t heal
- White, red, or off-color patches
- An unexplained lump
- Prolonged sore throat
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Restricted movement of the tongue or jaw
- A feeling of something in the throat
- Numbness of the tongue or other areas of the mouth
Fortunately, dentists are trained to recognize the early signs of oral cancer, and Dr. Griffin can often identify possible signs of the disease in its initial stages. We perform oral cancer screenings at routine dental exams, but you can also come in for an examination any time you have a concern. The good news is that recent advances in diagnosing oral cancer offer the hope that more people will get appropriate, timely treatment for this potentially deadly disease.
If you have questions about oral cancer, please contact us by calling (972) 242-2155 for a consultation. Or, you can use the “Ask Dr. Griffin” form at the top of this page.