What you should know about Oral CancerMarch 9, 2020 10:21 am
February 3rd is World Cancer Day, when the world comes together to fight this disease. Sadly, the number of cancer cases are growing, with just under an estimated half a million diagnoses being made every year. World Cancer Day is a good opportunity to take stock of your own dental health, and make sure you’re doing everything you can to stay healthy and well. The word cancer can feel scary or overwhelming, but by staying aware you can help yourself and others stay safe. Read on for more information about oral cancer.
In the early stages of mouth cancer there isn’t often pain, and it can manifest itself like a mouth ulcer or a sore. However, if your ulcer doesn’t disappear by itself after a few days, bleeds a lot, or causes pain or discomfort, you should definitely get it checked out. Other symptoms of oral cancer can include numbness, swellings, difficulty chewing or swallowing, and a very bad sore throat. Sometimes you may feel pain, or experience sudden unexplained weight loss. If you are worried then it’s best to get it checked with your dental or medical professional.
Oral cancer can occur in the mouth, lips, tongue, cheeks, sinuses or the palate. Oral cancer can be life-threatening, but it can also be treated – especially if it is caught early. Traditionally there have been many more cases of oral cancer in men than women, which is thought to be down to more tobacco use and alcohol consumption. However these numbers are changing, and it’s important to stay aware and get screened. This is easier than you think, as a visual screen can be done by your dentist – it takes seconds. When you go for a normal dental appointment, your dentist will check for any lumps or other irregularities around your face, neck and mouth, as well as any sores inside your mouth.
If the dentist does find something unusual, they’re likely to perform a biopsy – a quick procedure in which a small amount of cells are taken in order to be tested at the lab. It should take a few days or less to get the results of a biopsy. Growths can of course be non-cancerous, and lesions can show before they have reached the stages of being cancerous. So, if your dentist wants to do a biopsy at your next check-up, don’t panic.
If oral cancer is diagnosed, the most common form of treatment is surgery to remove the growth, followed by radiation or chemotherapy. This is intended to kill any the cancerous cells remaining. The exact treatment depends on how far the cancer has progressed.
- How to stay healthy
Smokers and heavy drinkers are at the highest risk, with smoking associated with 15 different types of cancer. E-cigarettes are a good way to stop smoking while coping with nicotine withdrawals. Avoid smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, as these hold a high cancer risk. Be careful if you have a family history of cancer – make sure your dentist and/ or your doctor is aware, and get regular check-ups. Keep a good diet and exercise regularly. Avoid too much sunbathing and wear sunscreen while outside.
Oral cancer can still happen even if you have a healthy lifestyle, so it’s best just to be aware and be careful. You can do a simple head and neck check at home once a month, between dental check-ups. Look in a mirror, tilt your head back and check the roof of your mouth. You can also use your fingers to check if anything feels strange. Do the same with the inside of your cheeks, lips, tongue and your gums. Make sure the light is bright so you can see properly. Use your fingers to check the sides of your neck, where your lymph nodes are. The earlier a lesion is spotted, the better the chances of successful treatment.
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