More than 53,000 adults in the US are expected to be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. That’s a big number – and although the majority of oral cancer patients can successfully treat their cancer and go into remission, oral cancer is certainly a serious health condition. This type of cancer can develop anywhere inside your mouth, from your throat to your cheeks, and anywhere in between.
There’s no doubt that even thinking about oral cancer can be scary or uncomfortable. As with any health condition, knowing how to spot the early warning signs – and getting treatment as soon as possible – can make an incredible difference in how your cancer is treated and the type of recovery you can expect.
We’ve put together a comprehensive overview of how you can prevent oral cancer and how you can spot the warning signs as soon as possible. With a proactive approach, you can create a solid foundation of good oral health for decades to come.
What causes oral cancer?
Oral cancer can occur at any time, but some habits and health conditions can put you at a higher risk for developing oral cancer. Take a look at the list below to see the most common risk factors for oral cancer:
- Age: Although the majority of oral cancer diagnoses happen to patients in their 60s, anyone who is 45 and older is naturally at a higher risk for oral cancer.
- Gender: Men are two times more likely to develop oral cancer than women.
- Smoking: Tobacco use (cigarettes, pipes, chewing tobacco, etc.) makes you 10 times more likely to develop oral cancer.
- Drinking: Heavy or moderate alcohol use can increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer.
- HPV: The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been linked to oral cancer and is thought to be the leading cause of as much as 70 percent of oral cancers in the US.
While you won’t be able to control all of your risk factors, you might have a few opportunities to protect your oral health by making lifestyle changes. If you smoke, quitting as soon as possible will immediately decrease your odds of getting oral cancer. If you drink, quit or cut down your consumption to limit your exposure. If you haven’t gotten an HPV vaccination yet, make an appointment with your doctor.
And of course, don’t neglect your oral hygiene routine! Regular brushing and flossing can go a long way toward keeping your mouth free from bacteria and decay, decreasing the chances of oral cancer developing.
What are the early symptoms of oral cancer?
Learning the early warning signs of oral cancer can help you seek help – and get treatment – as soon as possible. Keep an eye out for the symptoms below; if you are experiencing them for two weeks or more, make an appointment with your dentist.
- Persistent ear pain
- Prolonged sore throat or the sensation that something is caught inside your throat
- Red or white patch(es) in your mouth
- Irritation, a lump, a sore, or an irregular patch of skin in your throat, lip, or mouth
- Difficulty moving your tongue or your jaw
- Difficulty chewing, speaking, or swallowing
- Prolonged numbness in your mouth or your tongue
- Jaw swelling that alters the fit of your dentures (or causes them to feel uncomfortable)
Think you might be at risk for developing oral cancer? Worried about a sore or lump in your mouth that doesn’t seem to go away? Make an appointment with Blue Island Smiles! We’ll take a look and help you determine whether you may need an oral cancer screening and treatment.