Oral cancer awareness month is in April, and while you should be diligent and aware of oral cancer symptoms all year round, having its own month allows us to shine a spotlight on this potentially serious issue. When discovered in its early stages, oral cancer has a much better survival rate which makes early detection crucial in the healing and treatment process. Not everyone gets oral cancer, but there is a range of specific risk factors that can enhance the probability. Keep reading for all the information you need.
Oral Cancer Explained
Abnormal cells that grow and spread in and around your mouth are characteristic of oral cancers. The areas that are most often affected by oral cancer include the:
- Salivary glands
- Insides of the lips or cheeks
- Roof and floor of the mouth
A Potentially Dangerous Situation
If not diagnosed and treated early, oral cancer can be serious and even fatal. The five-year survival rate for early-stage oral cancer is 85% for all people, but only 28% of oral cancers are diagnosed at an early stage. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs or involves the lymph nodes, the overall five-year survival rate drops to 68%. Thus, detecting oral cancer as soon as possible is vital for receiving appropriate treatment.
Oral Cancer Symptoms To Watch For
To have the best chance at a full recovery, it is important to watch for symptoms of oral cancer and then take immediate action. Some of the common signs include painless lumps on the tongue, lips, or neck, unexplained bleeding in the mouth, changes in taste or tongue sensation, persistent sores in the mouth, changes in the colour or texture of mouth tissue, persistent sore throat, and white or dark red patches in the mouth or on the lips. If you notice any of these signs, it’s a good idea to get to your dentist as soon as possible, even if your next scheduled appointment isn’t for some time.
Risk Factors For Oral Cancer
Oral cancer has various risk factors that can contribute to its growth and development. You may fall into one of these categories or several, and there’s no telling how many or in what combination will pose a problem. And while having these risk factors does not guarantee that you will develop oral cancer, it’s essential to be aware of them to minimize your risk. Some of the risk factors for oral cancer are:
Age: Although there is no particular age that increases the risk of oral cancer, it is more prevalent in people aged 45 and above. This means regular dental screenings are crucial to ensure potential issues are detected early.
Tobacco use: One of the most preventable, and obvious, risk factors for oral cancer is using tobacco products such as cigarettes, snuff, and chewing tobacco, among others. These products contain carcinogenic substances that heighten your risk. If you are a current smoker or use tobacco products, quitting will significantly reduce your risk of oral cancer.
Overconsumption of alcohol: While not commonly associated with oral cancer, excessive alcohol consumption can pose a risk. To minimize your risk, it’s advisable to drink alcohol in moderation.
HPV infection: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common STI that affects the skin and can also contribute to oral cancer development. Reducing your risk of HPV infection can help lower your risk of oral cancer.
Overexposure to sunlight: Overexposure to the sun’s UV rays without any lip sunscreen can also heighten your risk of oral cancer. Using lip balms that contain UV protection can help keep your lips protected so you avoid this specific type of oral cancer.
Poor diet: Poor dietary habits can increase your risk of various cancers, including oral cancer. Eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables can boost your antioxidant intake and reduce your risk of developing oral cancer.
Poor oral hygiene: Poor oral hygiene can also contribute to the development of oral cancer. Maintaining good oral health practices, such as regular dental visits and following your dentist’s recommendations, can help lower your risk of oral cancer.
Prevention Tips You Can Use
Preventing oral cancer involves taking proactive measures to minimize your risk. And if it’s possible to prevent issues before they start, that’s exactly what you should be doing. Some of the best ways to prevent oral cancer include:
- Brushing and flossing your teeth daily
- Regularly visiting your dentist and dental hygienist for checkups and cleanings
- Quitting tobacco products if you use them
- Drinking alcohol in moderation
- Using lip balm with UV protection when exposed to sunlight for extended periods
- Reducing your risk of HPV infection
A Dentist’s Role When It Comes To Oral Cancer
Although dentists do not treat oral cancer, they play a crucial role in detecting it early. Regular visits to the dentist are important, as only your dentist will see small changes in your mouth that you may overlook on your own. As you age, this becomes even more important, as age is a major risk factor for developing oral cancer. Keeping up with your regular appointments is the best way to get the early detection and treatment you need.
At Li Family Dental, we offer a wide range of dental services in Etobicoke to help you stay on top of your appointments for optimum oral health.