On graduating from dental school, I was fortunate enough to get a job in a thriving maxillo-facial department in Wales.
I applied for a job I didn’t know I would be able to do, in a place I couldn’t really pronounce, with people I didn’t know, because, at the time I was young, naive and mainly because I didn’t think that I would actually get it…… I was wrong.
The job was frantic, tiring, fun and a bigger learning curve than I thought would be possible. The small, multifaceted department dealt with a huge array of patients from troublesome wisdom teeth, facial and dental injuries, patients with complicated medical needs and those with unexplained lumps, bumps and pains.
It was during this time that I was first exposed to oral cancer and I quickly came to realise that this would present in many forms.
There were the high risk patients that I had read about during my years of training, the smokers, drinkers and overweight people.
However there were also the non-drinkers, well presented, scrupulously clean, never smoked patients that had no risk factors what-so-ever.
I quickly came to the conclusion that cancer isn’t fair and it is now my personal belief that, although you can reduce your personal risk factors, for some people cancer is just horrendously bad luck!
It is for this reason that, although professionally I am obliged to ask my patients about their personal habits that could increase their risks of getting cancer, in the back of my mind I treat everybody as “high risk”. Although I now believe that everybody is at risk from cancer, I also know that the quicker it is dealt with, the smaller the impact will be on a persons (and their families) life.
I will always remember every case of oral cancer I have seen. Those patients (and their families) have made an indelible impact on my life both professionally and personally.
I have now been working as a general dentist for over 20years and during this time I have been suspicious of many oral lumps and bumps and unfortunately on a few occasions my suspicions have turned out to be founded. Thankfully many of these lesions were caught in the early stages and the cancer was able to be treated successfully. Also I will also stress that the majority of these cases have been on the “low-risk” patient.
Because of this I would urge ANYONE to get a worrying lump checked out…. you are NEVER wasting our time! I would much rather tell someone they have nothing to worry about than months down the line fret because I was seen too unapproachable to ask the simple question “what is this?”.