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Health & Fitness

Can You Prevent Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer affects over 45,000 Americans every year, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. At least 8,650 people will die from it every year. The five-year survival rate after a diagnosis is 57 percent. As with most cancers, early diagnosis is key in receiving the appropriate treatment and reducing the mortality rate. How can you spot the early signs or even prevent it from occurring?

What Is Oral Cancer?

This type of cancer can strike the following parts of the mouth: the lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, tonsils, interior surfaces of the jaw and salivary glands. The classification is a subgroup of head and neck cancers.

Risk Factors for Development

Those who smoke tobacco and drink alcohol on a regular basis are more likely to develop this cancer. The disease is also more prevalent in men than women. If you have been infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), you are more likely to develop the disease as well.

Spot the Earliest Signs

The early signs are often confused with other oral health issues. If you notice any of the following indications, talk to your doctor or dentist immediately:

  • An ulcer or sore inside your mouth that will not heal
  • Mouth inflammation persisting for over three weeks
  • Painful swallowing or lasting sore throat
  • Any unexplained lumps in the mouth
  • Jaw and neck pain
  • Loosening teeth
  • Red or white patches on the tongue or inside the mouth

The danger of this cancer type lies in its lack of early detection. The reason for high mortality rates in oral cancer diagnoses is due partly to patients not discovering the health problem until the cancer is in its later stages, after the primary tumor has metastasized.

If the dentist suspects oral cancer is developing, he or she may refer the patient to an oncologist or ear, nose and throat specialist. The medical professional will take a biopsy of the tumor or surface lining while the patient is under general or local anesthesia. Once it is diagnosed, further testing is required to determine how much the disease has spread. They may conduct an endoscopy of the throat or utilize X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to investigate the extent and stage of the cancer and decide on the appropriate treatment, which could involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, drug treatment or other measures.

Prevention Strategies

First, to reduce the chances of developing this disease, quit using tobacco and reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption. Follow guidelines for general wellness, including eating a healthy, balanced diet including fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly. Wear sunblock on your lips and face and limit exposure to sunlight in general.

Take your dental health seriously. Follow through with your twice-yearly dental checkups and alert your dentist to any signs of discomfort or abnormalities in your mouth and the surrounding tissues. Brush and floss twice a day. Once each month, examine the inside of your mouth using a light source and a mouth mirror and tell your dentist if you see suspicious patches or bumps.

Neglecting your teeth only does your body a disservice in the long term. Always remember to schedule your twice-yearly examinations to identify and put a stop to any cancer development.