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What You Need to Know to about Oral Cancer

Originally posted on 08/07/2012

The words oral cancer are spelled out on a desk sitting next to a stethoscope.

The Oral Cancer Foundation notes that “mouth cancer will be newly diagnosed in about 100 new individuals each day in the U.S. alone, and a person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day.”  The death rate for oral cancers is higher than that of most other types of cancers; only about 57% of oral cancer patients will be alive in five years. Early detection and treatment are critical.

This article will go over oral cancer and factors that put you at greater risk for experiencing oral cancer.

Oral Cancer Basics

Like any type of cancer, oral cancer begins with a change in a healthy cell that causes it to grow out of control. Unlike healthy cells, these cancerous cells have the ability to infect other healthy tissue in the body through a process called metastasis. Oral cancer occurs when this cancerous growth begins in the mouth, specifically in the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palates, throat, or sinuses. If not detected through a dental screening, this disease can lead to severe tissue damage and possibly even death.

Risk Factors of Oral Cancer

Are you at risk for oral cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, men over the age of 50 years old appear to be at the highest risk for developing this type of cancer. There are, however, many other factors that can increase your risk. Let's go through these risk factors below.

Oral Cancer Risk #1: Smoking

The rate of oral cancer among cigarette smokers is substantially higher than in those who have never smoked. In fact, it is estimated that smokers are at least six times more likely to develop the disease. If you smoke you should try quitting as soon as possible. Studies have shown those who do can decrease their risk significantly after only a few years of abstinence from tobacco use.

Oral Cancer Risk #2: Smokeless Tobacco Use

There are many ways to use tobacco other than smoking. Unfortunately, using tobacco in any form puts you at a higher risk for cancer. Those who use snuff or chewing tobacco products appear to be up to 50 times more likely to develop oral cancer than those who do not.

Oral Cancer Risk #3: Alcohol

Beyond tobacco, alcohol can also present additional risk factors for your oral health. People who consume 3.5 or more drinks per day have at least a two to three times greater risk of developing oral cancers than non-drinkers. Additionally, The risk is even higher for tobacco users who drink heavily is even higher. In fact, 75 percent of oral cancers occur in people who use alcohol, tobacco, or both. 

Oral Cancer Risk #4: Exposure to UV Rays

It isn't just what you put into your mouth that counts. UV rays from the sun and other sources can have a lasting impact on your health. Excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, especially at a very young age, may increase your risk of suffering from oral cancers.

Oral Cancer Risk #5Family History

Who our parents are makes a big impact on our health. The genetics you share with your parents and other family members also means that you share their risk factors for health factors. If a close relative such as a parent or sibling has been diagnosed with oral cancer, you may be at a higher risk for the disease.

Quitting Smoking to Lower Your Risk of Oral Cancer

The American Dental Association's offers valuable information on what to do when you're trying to quit smoking. Still unsure if you REALLY want to stop? Consider that tobacco can:

  • Staining teeth and tongue
  • Dulling/deaden your sense of smell and taste
  • Slow the healing process after tooth extraction or other surgeries/mouth injuries
  • Increase your chance of gum disease
  • Increase your chance of oral cancer

As you move toward quitting, be sure to develop a plan and support network to help you along the way. Some tips:

  • Exercise takes you away from environments where people may be smoking, or where you used to smoke.
  • Tell people you're quitting, so they can help you stick to your plan and keep you accountable.
  • Chew sugarless gum to keep your mouth busy. 
  • Speak to a therapist if you feel uncontrollable urges or depression after quitting.
  • Speak to your doctor and your dentist to see if medications are available that would help you to stop using tobacco. 

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Regular dental exams not only check for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, they allow your dentist to inspect your mouth and tongue for unusual changes. These twice-yearly exams are especially important if you fall into any of the risk categories for oral cancer. You’ll want to see your dentist if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:

  • A sore, irritation, lump, or thick patch in the mouth, lip, or throat
  • A white or red patch in the mouth
  • A feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness in the tongue or other areas of the mouth
  • Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  • Pain in one ear without hearing loss

Protect Yourself from Oral Cancer with Regular Dental Visits

The early detection of oral cancer is one of the many reasons to visit your dentist regularly. If you are in need of a compassionate and experienced dentist or orthodontist, contact the Southfield Family Dental Center to set an appointment with Dr. Levi or Dr. Oleg today.

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