Through our oral health life time, we tend to focus on the mechanics of dental health like cavities, oral hygiene, breath, etc. Oral cancer is not first on the list. However, it is a growing cancer and accelerated by both tobacco and alcohol consumption.
Oral Cancer is the 6th most common cancer worldwide.
In terms of cancers, oral cancer is a little known cancer, while others such as breast or prostate are more commonly known. This low awareness does not diminish the importance of paying attention to the risk factors and how to practice good oral hygiene as a preventitive measure. Oral cancer includes lips, cheeks, tongue, tonsils and throat, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, and sinuses. Smoking, drinking alcohol and HPV infection all increase the risk of developing mouth cancer. More men than women are affected, although this pattern is changing.
Consider the following:
- Over 700 cases are diagnosed every year in Ireland.
- It is the sixth most common cancer in men worldwide.
- While it mainly affects men, more women are being diagnosed in recent years.
- It mainly affects older people, but younger people are now being diagnosed.
- When diagnosed early, your chance of survival is greatly improved.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of mouth, head and neck cancer can include:
- A sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal.
- White or red patches inside the mouth.
- A lump in the mouth or neck.
- Thickening or hardening of the cheek or tongue.
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue.
- A persistant sore throat and hoarseness.
- Persistent nosebleeds and a stuffy nose.
- Unexplained loose teeth.
What are the risk factors? The cause of mouth, head and neck cancer is not always known but your risk is greater if you:
- Smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes or marijuana.
- Chew smokeless tobacco, paan, gutkha and quid.
- Drink alcohol and products containing alcohol.
- Are exposed to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV has been linked to cancer in the tonsil and throat area.
- Are overexposed to the sun. This increases your risk of lip cancer.
Key to the prevention of oral cancer is to give up tobacco usage and adopt a sensible approach to the consumption of alcohol. It is estimated that at least three-quarters of oral cancers could be prevented by eliminating tobacco smoking and reducing alcohol consumption.
Use a lip balm that contains sun block.
A healthy diet with at least five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables may also reduce the risk of oral cancer.
Check your mouth regularly for changes, for example, when brushing your teeth.
Visit your dentist regularly, even if you have no teeth and wear dentures.
Oral cancer detected early has an extremely good prognosis (approx. 90% five-year survival rate). Despite this, the survival rate in Ireland is quite low (<50%) as 60% of cases present at an already advanced stage.