Oral Cancer Awareness Month: Everything You Need to Know

posted by Dr. Beau Beecher, DDS on 4/13/2022 in General

man being examined by dentist for signs of oral cancer

Did you know April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month? Oral cancer, not as commonly known as breast or lung cancer, can be just as deadly if not detected early. Learn more about oral cancer, and familiarize yourself with the symptoms that can help you detect it early. There are also healthy habits you can adopt that may reduce your risk of contracting this cancer.

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer is a malignant growth or sore that can develop on or near the lips, tongue, cheek, gums, or mouth. As many as 50,000 Americans experience oral cancer each year. It tends to appear in men more than women due to a higher prevalence of risk factors. Because this cancer can affect how you chew and swallow, it can be one of the more devastating cancers to experience.    

Oral Cancer Risk Factors

Certain lifestyle choices can make you more susceptible to oral cancer. The list below highlights the most dangerous habits that may increase your chances. Do your best to avoid these factors in daily life to help reduce the risk of oral cancer.

Smoking Cigarettes and Consuming Tobacco

The number one cause of oral cancer is smoking, snuffing, or chewing tobacco substances. This includes smoking cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. Smokers are six times more likely to develop cancer, while tobacco snuffers and chewers are 50 times more likely to develop oral, gum, mouth, or cheek cancer. When individuals decreased their use, their risk decreased by almost 50%.  

Heavy Alcohol Consumption

According to recent studies, regular heavy drinkers are six times more likely to have oral cancers than their non-drinking counterparts. Even worse, if they’re heavy drinkers and smokers, their chances almost triple. Because alcohol is the leading cause of many other cancers too, it's best to limit your consumption.

Nutrient-Lacking Diet 

Smoking and drinking have the largest impact on your risk of developing oral cancer. However, new studies are showing that your diet may also play a part. Low vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene intake are linked to oral, larynx, esophagus, stomach, and other cancers. 

Individuals who had a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and vitamins displayed a lower risk of experiencing cancer. After all, you are what you eat. Consume healthy foods on a regular basis so your body can protect you from serious health issues. 

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) 

A common sexually transmitted infection, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a collection of different virus strains. HPV is common among teenagers and young adults. Per the CDC, in most cases, HPV will go away on its own. However, it can sometimes lead to cancers including genital, oral, or oropharyngeal cancer. In fact, this sort of cancer can take decades to develop. The symptoms appear years after the individual first experienced HPV. Consult your doctor on your HPV cancer risk. 

Oral Cancer Symptoms

These are the common symptoms one may experience when oral cancer starts to develop. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or dentist immediately. They can perform extensive tests to confirm the presence of oral cancer and help set a course for treatment.  

Common oral cancer symptoms include, but are not limited to: 

  • Jaw pain or swelling 
  • Dentures suddenly not fitting properly
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
  • Sores, bumps, lumps, swelling in the mouth, cheek, gums, or lips 
  • White and or red patches in the mouth that feel velvety
  • Unexplained numbness or bleeding in the mouth or around the face
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • A constant sensation that something is stuck caught in the back of the throat

Oral Cancer Screening

As with any cancer, early detection is vital to increasing your survival rate. If detected early, the survival rate is 80 to 90%. Even more good news, you can request an annual oral cancer screening as part of your routine dental visit.

Your dentist conducts the exam, looking for common cancer symptoms. Be sure to regularly visit your dentist and inform him or her of any medical changes (swelling, bumps, bleeding, or pain) that could indicate the presence of cancer. 

Oral Cancer Treatment 

There are many treatment options for oral cancer. Some include surgery to remove the cancerous part of the body. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and drug treatments may also be prescribed to kill any remaining cancer cells. Your healthcare professional or dentist will advise on the best course of treatment for oral cancer.  

Discuss Oral Cancer Treatment Services with a Kimball & Beecher Dentist

Regularly scheduled dentist appointments will lessen the chances of oral cancer going undetected. Our compassionate and knowledgeable dentists perform thorough examinations during your visit to ensure you’re not at risk for serious diseases or cancers. Schedule an appointment today. We look forward to keeping you and your mouth healthy for years to come.

About The Author

Dr. Beau Beecher, DDS

Dr. Beau Beecher is the founder and CEO, of Kimball and Beecher Family Dentistry. Kimball and Beecher Family Dentistry is known for being a patient-centered practice that puts comfort and convenience first. Over 50,000 patients in Iowa cities travel miles to experience the high level of ... read more

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