As with nearly all types of cancer, no one really knows what exactly causes oral cancer. However, there are a lot of risk factors that may increase your chances of developing this horrendous disease. One of the leading causes of oral cancer is tobacco use. About 80 percent of patients diagnosed with oral cancers have used tobacco products.
Alcohol is another big risk factor, and about 70 percent of people diagnosed with oral cancer are also heavy drinkers. If you smoke and are a heavy drinker, in some cases, your chances of getting oral cancer are 100 percent compared to someone who doesn't smoke or drink.
There are some risk factors you can't control. For example, men are twice as common as women to get oral cancer, and most patients with oral cancer are over the age of 55. Certain conditions can also increase the risk, such as some genetic mutations, HPV, immune system suppression, and graft-vs-host disease.
Luckily, there are quite a few signs of oral cancer, so you may be able to spot it yourself. When looking for symptoms, don't just check inside your gums. You need to check the lips, gums, tongue, inside the cheeks, roof of the mouth, and the floor of the mouth under the tongue. Oral cancer can appear just about anywhere inside or near your mouth.
If you have oral cancer on the lip, you may experience a lip or mouth sore. However, unlike a cut or a cold sore, the cancerous sore won't heal. Inside your mouth, you may notice white or reddish patches, lumps and loose teeth.
In some cases, you may simply experience general mouth pain. Depending on the location of the cancer, you may also experience ear pain and have difficulty swallowing.
Your dentist is your best ally in helping spot and fight oral cancer. Your dentist will likely spot any signs first through regular dental inspections. Plus, if you've had the same dentist for a long time, they will be familiar with what is and is not normal inside your mouth.
You can also ask your dentist specifically about an oral cancer screening. During this test, the dentist actively searches for any signs of oral cancer. Just know that you will have to answer a lot of questions about potential tobacco and alcohol usage.
Once cancer has been detected, your dentist can help you create a treatment plan. Some patients may only need a minor procedure, such as removing a tumor. However, depending on the location and stage, you may need multiple or more invasive surgeries and other cancer treatments.
Oral cancer is often ignored even though it is common — especially if you smoke or drink. As with any other type of cancer, oral cancer can be deadly and destroy many parts of your body. You and your dentist, however, can work together to reduce your risks and spot problems before they start. For more information about oral cancer and screening, contact us at Cross Creek Family Dental.
Cancer affects many Americans, and there are many types of cancers you can develop. Oral cancer is one type that can be treated by your doctor or dentist. Oral cancer is not always discussed, but it needs to be because it is common, especially in older patients. If you suspect you may have oral cancer or you are afraid you are at high risk for getting cancer, you need to learn a little more to help better protect yourself.