It’s the diagnosis that nobody ever wants to hear, but unfortunately, oral cancer is the eleventh most common type of cancer in the world. Oral cancers can be difficult to diagnose, and treatment is always most effective in its early stages, but the good news is there are things you can do to drastically reduce your risk of mouth cancer.
What Is Oral Cancer?
Mouth cancer is defined as any cancerous growths presenting in the oral cavity. This includes the lips, cheeks, gums, tongue, tonsils, and the upper part of the throat. Oral cancers can spread through the soft tissues of the mouth, causing decay and damage to blood vessels and other important structures. In worst-case scenarios, oral cancers can spread to other parts of the body—a process called metastasis—and potentially infect these areas as well. If left untreated, oral cancer can eventually be fatal.
What Does Mouth Cancer Look Like?
It’s important to stay vigilant for signs of mouth cancer as it can present in several different forms. Raised bumps on the lips, gums, or inside the mouth that are new and potentially tender to the touch can potentially be mouth cancer symptoms, as are splotchy or differently colored marks in your mouth that appear suddenly or seem to change shape. If you are experiencing what you believe are oral cancer symptoms, book an appointment with your dentist immediately for an official inspection and diagnosis.
Factors That Increase the Chance of Developing Oral Cancer
The risk factors that may cause someone to develop cancer are wide-ranging and many are beyond the individual’s control. For example, the World Health Organization has found that males have a higher chance of developing oral cancer than women. People over the age of 45 also have an increased risk. If you have head or neck cancer previously, you are also at an increased risk of relapsing or developing new oral cancers.
However, there are lifestyle choices and habits that are associated with an increased risk of oral cancers which can be addressed to drastically reduce your risk factors. The two controllable risk factors that most affect your chances of developing oral cancer are tobacco use and alcohol, which can be attributed to a large percentage of cases. Other risk factors include prolonged sun exposure, exposure to Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in the mouth, poor oral healthcare, lack of proper nutrition, sedentary lifestyle, and an absence of preventive dentistry.
How to Prevent Oral Cancer
Changing your lifestyle and habits are some of the most effective things you can do to lessen your risk of oral cancer.
If you smoke, chew, or otherwise consume tobacco, stopping completely is the single most effective thing you can do to lower your risk factor. Reach out to your doctor or behavioral health expert if you find quitting exceedingly difficult or impossible on your own, and consider nicotine replacements like patches or chewing gum.
Drink in Moderation
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol has been shown to directly correlate to increased instances of oral cancer. For women, more than one drink per day is considered excessive; for men, more than two drinks per day.
Keep Your Mouth Healthy
Chronic oral infections are a risk factor for mouth cancer and can be prevented with good oral hygiene habits and daily cleaning. From tooth decay stages to oral cancer, brushing, flossing, and using a fluoride mouth wash every day will keep your mouth clean and healthy.
Check Your Mouth With Self-Examination
Monthly self-checks only take a few minutes and can help you get an early diagnosis. Check everywhere in your mouth that you can see and feel along with the back and sides of your tongue. If you notice any significant changes such as lumps or colored patches, consult your dentist immediately.
Protect Yourself From the Sun
Using appropriate UV blocking sunscreen, headwear, and limiting your time outdoors under the strong sun can protect your lips from cancer-causing radiation.
Avoid HPV Infection
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection has been linked to increased instances of oral cancer and can be spread through sexual contact as well as activities like kissing or sharing drinks. Getting vaccinated against HPV can help to prevent infection.
Get Your Regular Dental Checkups
Keep your biannual dental checkups and ask your dentist to perform oral cancer screenings during your appointment. Learn more about preventive dentistry services.
Oral cancer is a scary prospect and one that millions of people struggle with every year. While treatment is possible, prevention is the best course of action when it comes to lowering your risk factors and keeping your mouth healthy. If you are looking for dental services in Sparks or South Reno, including oral cancer screenings, the Champagne Family Dentistry is ready to help. Don’t wait, call today and schedule your first appointment for better oral health and peace of mind.