If you’re paranoid about oral cancer, you’re not alone. Oral cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States. Oral cancer can develop on or under your tongue, gums, tissue lining, lips, throat, or back of the mouth. There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of developing this disease.
Oral cancer is a severe disease, but it is also highly treatable with early detection. So, if you are worried about oral cancer, don’t hesitate to call your dentist in Winchester for a consultation. It could save your life.
What is oral cancer, and what are the types?
Oral cancer affects the mouth and throat tissues. It can develop in any part of the mouth, including the lips, tongue, gums, and roof of the mouth. It can also affect the throat, including the tonsils. There are many types of oral cancer, including:
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma- Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the most common type of oral cancer, accounting for about 90% of all cases. This type of cancer begins in the slim, flat cells lining the mouth. One noticeable symptom is the appearance of a red or white patch that will form inside your mouth or lips.
- Adenocarcinoma- The risk of developing this cancer increases from alcohol use. This cancer is disguised as a mouth sore that doesn’t heal or a white or red patch on the inside of your mouth. It begins in mucus-producing glands in your body.
- Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma- Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma is a rare form of cancer that develops in the salivary glands of the head and neck. Often a large lump in your mouth or under the tongue and difficulty swallowing are indicators of this cancer.
- Oral Malignant Melanoma- Oral Malignant Melanoma brews inside your mouth due to the heavy use of tobacco and alcohol. This cancer appears as very dark, spotted swellings that often bleed.
- Sarcoma- Sarcoma starts when cells grow out of control and crowd normal cells. This cancer grows inside the bone, cartilage, muscle, or other tissues.
- Lymphoma- There are no known causes for Lymphoma. It grows from cells usually found in lymph nodes. Lymphoma can also develop in the mouth.
What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
The early stages of oral cancer may not cause any symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, it may cause changes to the oral cavity. Here are some warning signs you should pay attention to:
- Persistent pain or irritation that doesn’t go away
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Red or white patches in the oral cavity, including gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Sudden facial weight loss
- Sore throat
- Mouth sores that bleed and don’t heal
- A lump or growth, or sore on the lip, tongue, throat, or roof of the mouth
- Pain when swallowing
- Difficulty speaking or chewing
- Ringing or pain in your ears or trouble hearing
Who is at risk for developing it?
Oral cancer can affect anyone, but some people are at a higher risk than others. Factors that can make a person high risk include:
- Smoking or using chewing tobacco
- Excessive alcohol use
- Exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Excessive Sun Exposure
- Poor Diet
- A family history of oral cancer
What are the treatment options for oral cancer?
Treatment for oral cancer will depend on the stage of the disease and its severity. There are three available treatment options for oral and oropharyngeal cancer.
- Surgery: An oral surgeon will cut away the tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue surrounding the affected area to remove the cancer cells.
- Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy sends beams of particles through the skin of the head and neck toward the tumor. When the rays reach the tumor, they destroy the cancer cells by damaging their DNA.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment injects anti-cancer drugs into the blood through a vein or a pill that is taken orally.
- Combination of these treatments: Following oral surgery, a surgeon may recommend adjuvant chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy. This will help decrease the chances of cancer coming back. The purpose is to kill cancer cells that might have been left behind during surgery because they were too small to see.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Developing Oral Cancer
There are several things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer:
- Maintain good oral hygiene: Brush and floss your teeth regularly; an unhealthy mouth is a perfect place for germs and infections to brew.
- Quit smoking and using chewing tobacco: 80 percent of people with oral cancer use tobacco.
- Wear sunblock/limit sun exposure: Even our lips need to be protected. Constant exposure increases the likelihood of cancer on the lips, especially the lower lip. Using chapstick with a sun blocker built-in will reduce the risk of oral cancer. When applying sunscreen to your body, be sure to get your face and neck, too.
- Eat healthy foods: Eat antioxidant-containing foods such as grapes, beans, leafy greens, berries and vegetables, flax seeds, garlic, green tea, soy, and tomatoes.
- Drink alcohol in moderation: The more alcohol a person drinks, the higher the risk of developing alcohol-associated oral cancers.
- Avoid exposure to HPV: Unprotected oral sex or exchange of fluids can lead to the transmission of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can manifest as oral cancer.
- Regular visits to your dentist are essential: Occasionally, mouth cancer is pain-free until it is in its later stages. The Oral Cancer Foundation recommends visiting the dentist every six months, especially if you use tobacco products.
How can you tell if you have oral cancer?
If you suffer from any of the symptoms of oral cancer, see your doctor right away. Your oral health provider will perform oral cancer screening diagnostic tests. Your doctor may order additional tests, such as a biopsy, to determine if you have an infection or a tumor that could indicate mouth cancer.
Ways to Reduce Your Chances of Getting Oral Cancer
- Stay informed about the risks and symptoms of oral cancer.
- See your oral healthcare provider regularly for checkups.
- Moderate alcohol consumption.
- Take steps to reduce your risk of exposure to HPV.
- Get vaccinated against HPV.
You can significantly reduce your risk of developing oral cancer by following the steps above. Whenever you visit your oral healthcare provider, ask if the dentist can check for early signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer screening only takes about three minutes. If it is caught early enough, oral cancer can be treated. Don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or dentist and ask questions if you are concerned about your health. Contact us today to schedule a consultation or oral cancer screening.