Oral (Mouth) Cancer

Oral cancer refers to cancer occurring in any part of the mouth, tongue, lips and adjacent areas. Oral cancers have a higher proportion of deaths per number of cases than breast cancer, cervical cancer or skin melanoma. Less than half of those people diagnosed with oral cancer at later stages survive beyond 5 years of diagnosis. However, early detection transforms survival chances to more than 70% to 96% depending on the site of the cancer.

Risk factors for oral cancer include:

  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol abuse
  • HPV (human papilloma virus) infection
  • Sun exposure (lip cancer)

A visit to the dentist can save lives. Warning signs for oral cancer include:

  • Ulcers which do not heal within 3 weeks
  • Red and white patches in the mouth
  • Unusual lumps and swellings in the mouth

A protective factor for oral cancer is to Quit Smoking

  • No smoking or chewing tobacco or equivalent

Studies have shown that when people stop smoking cigarettes, their risk of oral cancer decreases by one-half (50%) within 5 years. Within 10 years of quitting, their risk of oral cancer is the same as for a person who never smoked cigarettes.

 It is not clear whether avoiding certain other risk factors will decrease the risk of oral cancer.

  • Certain risk factors, such as drinking alcohol, HPV infection, and sun exposure, increase the risk of oral cancer. It may seem that by avoiding these risk factors, the chance of having oral cancer would decrease, but that has not been proven.  In general it is a good idea to avoid risky, health abusive behaviors and have a healthy diet, rich in vegetables and fruit

Note: Twenty-five percent of people diagnosed with oral cancer have no associated high risk factors.

If you experience any of these symptoms, or are not sure if you are experiencing them, it is a good idea to visit your dentist at once for a thorough examination. If further medical evaluation is needed, your dentist can take the necessary steps to facilitate this process.

Source: National Cancer Institute/National Institutes of Health – http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/prevention/oral/Patient/page3#Keypoint7

Accessed March 2013

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