Oral cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the mouth, and it can be deadly if not caught early. In honor of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, we’re going to tell you how to prevent this disease. First, we’ll define what oral cancer is and list its most common symptoms. Then, we’ll list and describe the risk factors of oral cancer. Finally, we’ll suggest five ways to prevent oral cancer.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx. It can be easily and effectively treated when caught early, but it can still be deadly if it goes undetected or untreated. In order to catch oral cancer early, it is helpful to know what symptoms to look for. The most common symptoms of oral cancer are:
- a sore that does not heal
- bleeding in the mouth
- red or white patches in the mouth
- pain or numbness in the mouth or lips
- persistent hoarseness
- feeling something stuck in the throat
There are several risk factors for developing oral cancer, including:
Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco, is one of the most common risk factors of oral cancer. In fact, tobacco users are at the most risk for developing oral cancer.
Excessive alcohol consumption
People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol are also at a higher risk for developing oral cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society notes that as many as 70% of people with oral cancer are heavy drinkers.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that is linked to an increased risk of developing oral cancer. This virus has been associated with about 9,000 cases of head and neck cancer annually. HPV infections can cause oral cancer in younger people who do not smoke.
Men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women. It is believed that this is due to more men using alcohol and tobacco than women.
Oral cancer is more common in people over the age of 55, according to the American Cancer Society. However, HPV-related oral cancers tend to affect younger individuals.
5 Ways to Prevent Oral Cancer
Now that we’ve gone over some of the risk factors of oral cancer, let’s talk about how you can prevent it. While you can’t completely eliminate your risk, there are things you can do to lower your chances of developing oral cancer.
Quit smoking and using tobacco products
If you currently smoke or use tobacco products, the best thing you can do for your health is to quit. Quitting smoking is one of the most effective ways to prevent oral cancer. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, former smokers can decrease their oral cancer risk by 50% after not smoking for 3-5 years. If you need help quitting, there are many resources available to you, including support groups and counseling.
Limit your alcohol consumption
If you drink alcohol, it’s important to do so in moderation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that heavy drinking is considered two drinks or more daily for men and one drink or more daily for women. Therefore, you can lower your risk by decreasing how many drinks you have per week.
Protect Your Lips
You can protect your lips from the sun by applying a lip balm or sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. It’s also important to wear a hat or visor when you’re outdoors to protect your face from harmful UV rays.
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk of developing oral cancer. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that help protect cells from damage.
See your dentist regularly
Finally, regular dental visits can help catch oral cancer early, when it is most treatable. During your appointment, your dentist will examine your mouth for any early signs of oral cancer. Nowadays, most dentists will perform an oral cancer screening as part of their basic semiannual dental exam. If they notice anything suspicious, they will usually recommend following up with your primary care physician for further testing.
In this blog, we have defined oral cancer and listed its symptoms. We have also listed and described the various risk factors for oral cancer. Finally, we discussed five ways to prevent oral cancer. We hope that this information has been helpful and informative. Remember, if you are experiencing any symptoms of oral cancer, it is important to see a doctor right away. Early detection is key to successful treatment.
Dr. Alina Huang has been practicing dentistry in Manhattan for the last eight years. She was born in New York City, and raised in California where she received her Bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and her D.D.S. at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco. She then made her return to NYC where she completed her General Practice Residency at Montefiore Medical Center and has been working in private practice ever since. She continues her learning by attending courses to stay current with the latest advancements in dentistry and refine her skills.