As any celebrity would, actor Stanley Tucci has been hitting the media circuit to promote his newest projects – in this case, a book and a TV series. But in the course of a recent interview for Virgin America’s inflight magazine, he also spent some time talking about his battle with tongue cancer.

Stanley TucciWhen diagnosed three years ago, the cancer was so advanced that surgery wasn’t an option. He ultimately agreed to chemo and high-dose radiation, but reluctantly.

“I’d vowed I’d never do anything like that, because my first wife died of cancer, and to watch her go through those treatments for years was horrible.” After what he’d endured with Kate, he was particularly scared about what the illness might mean for his family. “The kids were great, but it was hard for them,” he says. “I had a feeding tube for six months. I could barely make it to the twins’ high school graduation.”

Tucci remains cancer-free today. That’s not always the case when oral cancers are found late, and many unfortunately are. It’s one reason why the mortality rate for oropharyngeal cancers – cancers of the mouth and throat – is so high. While survival rates are comparatively higher for tongue cancers, the Oral Cancer Foundation notes that, overall, only slightly more than half of the 50,000-some Americans diagnosed with any oral cancer each year will still be alive 5 years later.

It’s yet another reason why regular dental visits are so important. It’s not just about getting your teeth cleaned and checked for cavities. In our office, for instance, we remain alert for signs of systemic health problems that can show up in the mouth. We work with you on personalized nutrition and hygiene plans to reduce your risk of developing dental problems while also supporting whole body health.

And, among other things, we regularly screen for oral cancer.

Interestingly, according to a recent paper in Evidence-Based Dentistry, while physicians tend to diagnose more oral cancers than dentists do, dentists detect more in their early, most readily treatable stages.

This is probably attributed to dentists training and routine examination of the oral cavity in the absence of symptoms and are likely to detect oral cancers as incidental findings. The dentists hence tend to refer asymptomatic early cancers compared to GPs who typically may be seeing advanced stages.

If you’re not a patient here in our St. Louis dental office and you’re not sure if your own dentist regularly screens for oral cancer, ask. In the meantime, you can conduct self-exams at home so you can let your dentist know of any potential cause for concern. Here’s how to do it:

 
Tucci image by Daniel Krieger

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