Here’s how you can outsmart oral cancer

Cancer anywhere in the body is never good but for some reason, having cancer strike in our oral cavity seems particularly bad.  Oral cancer also known as head and neck cancers will appear as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not go away.  This type of cancer includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat).  Any of them can not only be disfiguring but also life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.

Oral cancers can metastasize by spreading through the lymphatic system and bloodstream to other parts of the body, including lymph nodes, the neck, and lungs.  This is why early detection is crucial to get the best prognosis.  Every one of us should be alert and observant to changes that take place in our mouth like swelling, ulcers, lumps, spots, or discoloration that last more than two weeks.  If oral cancer is suspected, consult with your dentist or doctor right away to check whether these changes could be cancerous.

Causes of oral cancer

One of the biggest factors determining if you may develop an oral cancer is your lifestyle.  Here are several risk factors that can increase your odds of oral cancer:

·Tobacco use – One of the most common causes of oral cancer is the prolonged use of smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco.  Over 80 percent of oral cancer cases are because of a person who chose to use tobacco.  Overall, people who dip or chew get about the same amount of nicotine as regular smokers.  They also get at least 30 chemicals that are known to cause cancer with the most harmful cancer-causing substance in smokeless tobacco being tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs)  TSNAs levels vary by product, but the higher the level the greater the cancer risk.

·Alcohol consumption – Long-term heavy alcohol use increases the odds of developing oral cancer.  If a person is combining heavy drinking with heavy smoking, it raises the risk even more. 

·Sun exposure – Prolonged sun exposure without a sun protection on the lips can raise the risk of oral cancer in this area.  You can prevent this by limiting exposure to damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and tanning beds.  Always wear lip balm with a sun protection factor or SPF of at least 30 to block damaging UVA and UVB rays.

·Diet – Make sure your diet is brimming with fruits and veggies as this can help reduce your risk of oral cancer.

·Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – Research has linked HPV virus, the virus known to cause genital warts and cervical cancer, to oral cancer.  This virus can be sexually transmitted from partners which could be one way young, non-smoking oral cancer patients are developing the disease.

Signs of oral cancer

Every day inspect your oral cavity noticing any changes that may be occurring.  The following are signs or symptoms of oral cancer to be aware of:

·Red and/or white patches spotted anywhere in your mouth

·An ulcer or sore on your lip or mouth that often bleeds an remains unhealed

·An uncured blood blister

·A painless lump

·A roughened or crusted area

·Experiencing numbness inside the mouth

·Loose teeth/sore gums

·Changes in taste

·Swollen lymph glands

·Ear ache

8 things you can do to prevent oral cancer

1. Do not smoke or chew any type of tobacco product – If you are a smoker, even with a casual habit, make the decision to stop.

2. Drink alcohol in moderation – Moderation means if you’re a man no more than two drinks a day and if a woman, no more than one drink a day.  Never binge drink.  The risk of developing oral cancer increases with the amount and length of time alcohol and tobacco products are used.

3. Limit your exposure to the sun – Sunscreen is a must at all times, even our lips.  Always use a UVA/UVB blocking sun protection on your lips when in the sun.  Repeated exposure increases the risk of cancer on the lips, especially the lower lip. 

4. Exercise regularly – An active lifestyle is known to boost the immune system and help prevent cancer.

5. Always brush and floss your teeth regularly – An unhealthy mouth weakens your immune system and reducing the body’s ability to fight off potential cancers.

6. See your dentist or dental hygienist regularly – At least every 6 months, schedule a visit with your dentist.  They should be doing an automatic screening for oral cancer but request one if they are not. 

7. Choose cancer-fighting foods in your diet – The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends consuming lots of beans, berries, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli, dark green leady vegetables, flaxseed, garlic, grapes, green tea, soy and tomatoes for their role in cancer prevention. 

8. Conduct a self-exam at least once a month – This will only take a few minutes of your time but it is time well-spent.  Buy a mouth mirror like what a dentist uses (available at most pharmacies) for inspecting hard-to-see areas.  Be sure to check the back and sides of your tongue.  If you see or feel anything suspicious – lumps, bumps, tender areas, white, red or grey patches – see your dentist or doctor to have it checked out.