Oral Cancer is a potentially fatal disease that can impact anyone from young adults right through to the elderly. It is the tenth most common cancer!
Oral Cancer may affect any part of the mouth including: lips, gums, tongue, throat, inner lining of the cheeks, roof and floor of the mouth. It is frightening, debilitating and life threatening!
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells starting in the mouth cavity leading to the formation of a tumour. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common cancer of the oral cavity.
In men, most oral cancers are found on the floor of the mouth and tongue. In women, the most common sites are the tongue and gums.
Early detection of Oral Cancer is vital
Dental check-ups help monitor patients’ overall oral health but can also detect signs of oral cancer. As part of these routine check-ups, dentists screen patients for early signs of oral cancer.
Early detection and a timely referral are essential as people with oral cancer have a survival rate of only 50% over five years. Sadly, oral cancer often goes undetected until it is at an advanced stage due to missed routine visits to the dentist.
During a check-up your dentist will also provide you with information about the links between lifestyle and cancer risk, which is a key first step in effective cancer prevention.
What You Can Do to Prevent Oral Cancer
Here’s how you can take an active role in preventing oral cancer or detecting it in its initial stages:
- Brush and floss your teeth regularly. An unhealthy mouth compromises your immune system and inhibits your body’s ability to fight off potential cancers.
- Don’t smoke. The risk of oral cancer is about 5 to 10 times greater among smokers compared to people who never smoked. Some of the chemicals contained in tobacco smoke cause, initiate or promote cancer. These chemicals cause genetic changes in cells of the mouth cavity which can lead to the development of oral cancer. If you are a smoker, even with a casual habit, make the decision to stop. Find out more about the benefits of quitting smoking here
- Drinking less Alcohol. The risk of developing oral cancer increases with the amount and length of time alcohol and tobacco products are used.
- Limit your exposure to the sun. We all know we need to use sunscreen, but do we remember to apply it to our lips? Always use UV-A/B-blocking sun protection on your lips when you are in the sun. Repeated exposure increases the risk of cancer on the lips, especially the lower lip. There are a lot of handy lipstick-size sunscreen tubes to carry for everyday use. Some even come with a colour tint and flavour to replace your regular lip gloss or moisturiser.
- Exercise regularly. An active lifestyle is known to boost the immune system and help ward off cancer.
- Choose cancer-fighting foods in your diet. Unfortunately, there is no “cancer prevention superfood”; it is a combination of food variety that gives the greatest benefit. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables gives you the benefits of antioxidants, fibre, phytochemicals and weight control. Limiting red meat and avoiding overcooking meat is recommended to help prevent cancer.
- See your dentist or dental hygienist regularly. At least every six months visit your dentist and ask for an oral cancer screening to be done.
- Conduct a self-examination at least once a month. For females, plan to do it the same time you do your breast self-exam. It only takes a few minutes of your time but could make a significant difference in your life. Buy a handy mouth mirror (available at most pharmacies) for those hard-to-see areas. Be sure to check the back and sides of your tongue. If you see or feel anything suspicious lumps, bumps, tender areas, white, red or grey patches, see your dentist to have it checked.
More Information about Oral Cancer
- Dental Care Professionals –
- Oral Cancer Foundation –
- Australian Dental Association –
- World Cancer Day