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Think Pink: Breast Cancer Awareness And Your Oral Health

For years October and the color pink have symbolized Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The familiar pink ribbon stands for prevention, detection, treatment, and increased breast cancer awareness. As communities worldwide spread information on this disease, and raise money for treatment research, learn how breast cancer is linked to your oral health.

Facts About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a disease where malignant cells form in the breast's lobules, ducts, or connective tissues. Breast cancer can metastasize — or spread to other parts of the body — through blood vessels and lymph vessels. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), women get breast cancer more than any other type of cancer except skin cancer. Check out these other important stats:

  • The average risk of a woman developing breast cancer is 1 in 8.
  • The ACS estimates that 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2020.
  • From 2013 to 2017, the death rate of breast cancer decreased by 1.3% per year.

Many believe these decreases resulted from increased awareness and earlier screenings, as well as better treatments.

How Does Breast Cancer Impact Your Oral Health?

Because your oral health impacts so many aspects of your overall health, make sure a dentist is part of your treatment team. Your doctors may have to delay or stop treatment if your mouth has problems, so schedule a pretreatment dental checkup to clean your teeth and clear up any infections. Some dentists — called dental oncologists — undergo special training to treat cancer patients and address radiation and chemotherapy's oral side effects. At your pretreatment appointment, you can talk with your dentist about managing any oral complications while you fight to get healthy.

Cancer therapies often lead to oral side effects. Luckily, your dentist can treat these issues, which can include:

  • Mucositis - a painful inflammation and ulceration of the oral tissues that can be treated with topical anesthetics and oral rinses
  • Xerostomia - dry mouth, which is immediately addressed by staying hydrated or chewing sugarless gum
  • Dysphagia - difficulty swallowing, which can be addressed by medications and home remedies like eating soft foods
  • Oral thrush - a fungal infection that can be overcome with prescription medications

Breast Cancer Awareness and Prevention

Early detection dictates the treatment protocol and increases your chances of full remission. Take charge of your health by following these simple guidelines by the ACS:

  • Women ages 40 to 44 can choose to start mammogram screenings every year.
  • Women ages 45 to 54 should receive mammograms every year.
  • Women ages 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year or continue yearly screenings.

Research does not show any benefit of regular clinical breast exams or breast self-exams for women of any age. Breast cancer is usually detected when a woman discovers a symptom during usual activities like bathing or dressing. However, women should know how their breasts usually look and feel and report any changes to a physician right away.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Week, focus on fighting breast cancer with an early diagnosis — this includes seeking recommended screenings and becoming an advocate for other women. With one in eight women affected by breast cancer, chances are high you know someone in the battle. This month — like every month — think pink, stay healthy, and celebrate your health.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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