Each April marks Oral Cancer Awareness Month, which aims to increase public awareness of this type of cancer. This campaign hopes to increase public knowledge surrounding this disease, specifically highlighting which symptoms to watch for, risk factors, the importance of early detection, treatment options, and screening recommendations.
What are the Causes of Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer occurs when the cells within the tissues of the mouth grow and divide in an uncontrolled manner. The thin flat cells that line the mouth’s surfaces are called squamous cells. These types of cells are most frequently affected in cases of oral cancer.
While the exact causes of oral cancer have not been identified, a number of risk factors have been shown to increase the risk of developing this disease. These include:
Tobacco Use: Including smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke, and the use of smokeless tobacco products.
Alcohol Consumption: Research has shown that heavy drinkers are 5 times more likely to develop oral cancer.
Age: The majority of cases of oral cancer occur in people over the age of 40. 64 is the average age at diagnosis, and only approximately 20 percent of diagnoses occur in people under the age of 55.
Being Born Male: In general, men develop oral cancer more often than females. This is possibly due to the fact that men are more likely to use tobacco and/or alcohol at significant volumes.
Exposure to Ultraviolet Light: The risk of developing oral cancer on the lips is increased by repeated exposure to UV light from excess sunlight or tanning beds.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
Some of the possible signs and symptoms of oral cancer include:
- A sore or lesion within the mouth or on the lips that doesn’t heal or go away.
- A mass or lump in the mouth or on the lips that can be felt with the tongue or fingers
- A red or white patch on the gums, tongue, or inside of the cheek
- Chronic or persistent pain in the mouth
- Frequent unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Swelling of the jaw
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Numbness in areas of the mouth
When oral cancer spreads to the nearby tissues, it is common to also experience the following:
- Persistent sore throat
- The sensation of having a ‘lump in your throat’
- Hoarseness of the voice
- Pain or difficulty when swallowing
- Pain in the ear
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
How Often Should I Be Screened for Oral Cancer?
Early identification of oral cancer can vastly improve the chances of treatment being successful. This is why most dentists recommend routine oral cancer screenings that include a thorough examination of the entire mouth. It is recommended that adults aged 20 or older receive a screening every 3 years, while individuals over the age of 40 should be screened every year.
Dentists usually watch for signs of oral cancer during routine checkups, which should occur twice each year. This will include looking and feeling around in the mouth for any signs that oral cancer may be present.
There are also special dyes and lights that can be used to identify lesions that are potentially cancerous. These more intensive exams are usually recommended for individuals who have an increased risk of developing oral cancer.
Checking your lips and mouth regularly for any changes that are unusual is also important. If you observe something that is irregular or concerning, see your doctor or dentist as soon as possible.
How Can Oral Cancer be Prevented?
Oral cancer prevention includes the following taking the following steps:
- Avoiding the use of tobacco products, including quitting if you do use them
- Practicing moderation when drinking alcohol, or eliminating alcohol completely
- Receiving the vaccine for HPV
- Reducing UV light exposure
- Attending regular dental checkups
The Bottom Line
With April being Oral Cancer Awareness month, learning more about how to prevent and identify the signs and symptoms of this disease is at the forefront. Seeing your dentist for regular checkups not only benefits the health and condition of your teeth and mouth, but it can also help to identify oral cancer early before it has a chance to spread or progress. The prognosis for those with oral cancer is much better when this type of cancer is identified and treated early.
Routine self-examinations are simple and easy and can also help to identify any changes or irregularities that may be a sign of cancer. If you notice something that concerns you, see your doctor or dentist right away.
At Stonegate Dental, we offer complete oral examinations, which include screening for oral cancer. Contact our Guelph dentist’s office today to learn more about our services or to schedule your appointment.