Oral Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, and Ways to Prevent it

oral cancer

Beating Oral Cancer is a Matter of Time!

The ACS estimates that in 2020 there will be about 53,000 new cases of oropharyngeal or oral cancer in the USA; and around 11,000 patients will die of these diseases.

If you can detect it in early stages, before it spreads to other parts, then you have up to a 92% chance of surviving according to the ACS. 

Dr. Debbie Luis

Dr. Debbie Luis

Mother - General Dentist - Blogger

Cancer is probably the most feared word and disease today. And it’s a well-earned reputation. This devastating disease not only threatens your health, but also causes psychological, professional and even economic issues.

Although oral cancer is not as lethal as other types of cancer, the impact it has on your life is the same as all other types. This is why it’s so important to stay up to date on symptoms, risks, and ways to prevent it. 

Luckily for you, in this article we share everything you need to know about oral cancer; so keep reading!

What is Oral Cancer?

Let’s start with a quick review of what cancer is:

In a few words, cancer happens when cells (in almost any part of the body) grow out of control and form a tumor. If you don’t detect it in time; and don’t get the proper treatment, it can spread to other parts of the body. This process is known as metastasis. 

With that being said; oral and oropharyngeal cancer a.k.a. oral cavity cancer or mouth cancer, is basically cancer that has its origin in any part of the mouth. This includes the tongue, cheeks, roof of the mouth, lip, gums, glands, tonsils and pharynx (the part that connects your mouth to your windpipe).

If you want an extensive explanation about all types of cancer you can visit the American Cancer Society (ACS), after finishing this article of course!

Statistics & Facts

The ACS estimates that in 2020 there will be about 53,000 new cases of oropharyngeal or oral cancer in the USA; and around 11,000 patients will die of these diseases.

ASC research say that men are more likely to get oral cancer than women, and the average age at diagnosis is 62. However it can affect young people; in fact, around 25% of diagnosed patients are people younger than 55.

The survival rate is relatively high compared to other types of cancer; if it’s detected in early stages, before it spreads to other parts, then a patient has up to a 92% chance of surviving according to the ACS. 

As you can see, early diagnosis is essential. All you need to do is visit a dentist and get a brush biopsy. SHD Preventive and Comprehensive dental plans offer brush biopsy coverage. To learn more about dental plans click here.

What Causes Oral Cancer?

When it comes to determining what causes oral cancer there is only one certainty – there are no certainties. And this only makes things worse because not knowing exactly how it happens makes prevention difficult.

In general, instead of actual causes, scientists talk about risk factors, which are behaviors that seem to cause cells to grow out of control.

The risk factors include smoking or chewing tobacco and derived products, excessive alcohol consumption, human papilloma virus (HPV), and previously having head and neck cancer.

Other factors associated with oral cancer are an unhealthy diet, excessive UV light exposure, weakened immune system, age, gender, and genetic mutations.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Signs are not clearly visible at the early stages; if you smoke, drink, or have HPV (or had at some point), it’s very important to get tested regularly. Seniors should be careful too, as the average age at diagnosis is 62. At an advanced stage there are some visible symptoms of oral cancer, these include:

  • Mouth sores that don’t heal
  • Lumps in the cheek or lymph glands that don’t go away
  • White or red patches on any part of the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Bleeding or numbness of the mouth
  • Loosening of the teeth without apparent reason
 

Be careful! Oral cancer is often confused with other problems, do not diagnose yourself, if you think you might have it, then talk to your dentist and get a brush biopsy asap! If you need help covering the bills make sure to get a dental plan.

How to Prevent Oral Cancer?

Remember I said not knowing what causes it only makes things worse? Well, because we can’t really identify the reason why oral cancer appears (yet), it’s actually almost impossible to establish a reliable prevention method.

Sadly, not all cases can be prevented, but you can reduce the hazard by avoiding certain risk factors:

Reduce or Completly Avoid Smoking and Drinking

Again, tobacco and alcohol are #1 and #2 in the list of harmful behaviors. No matter how long have you been drinking or smoking, quitting greatly lowers your risk of developing not only this but other types of cancer even after many years of use. 

Beware HPV

If you have human papilloma virus (HPV) you might have oral cancer and don’t even know it. In fact, you may have HPV and don’t even know it. HPV is a sexual transmission infection that rarely shows symptoms but frequently leads to cancer. According to the ACS, practicing safe oral sex (whatever that means) and limiting the number of sexual partners (to 1 if possible) are the best shields against both diseases. 

Visiting Your Dentist at Least Twice a Year

Obviously, one of the best ways to prevent oral cancer is by simply visiting your dentist. As I said before, early diagnosis is essential to prevent spread and potentially increase your survival rate.

Make sure to have a dental plan that offers coverage on preventive procedures.

Don't Overexpose to Sunlight

Who doesn’t love a sunny day? But UV light is a risk factor not only for your skin but also for your lips (and no, lipstick won’t protect you). Make sure to use plenty of sunscreen when you go outside during the day. Wearing a hat is also a good idea. Besides let’s be honest, Hats are chic! 

A Healthy Diet Helps prevent Oral Cancer

That’s right, although we still can’t say for sure which foods might cause or prevent oral cancer, the ACS recommends to choose a diet rich in whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals instead of refined grains, and eating fish, poultry, or beans instead of processed meats and red meats.

Conclusion

Facing cancer of any type will never be easy. It really is a disease that changes your world forever. Not only will it have a toll on your overall health, it also has a negative impact on every aspect of your life and your family’s. 

That’s why I always encourage my patients to avoid risk factors as much as possible. There is still a lot we don’t know about cancer and every little effort to fight it (or prevent it) counts.

As I said before, If you think you might have oral cancer, don’t hesitate to see your dentist as catching it early will increase your chances of becoming a survivor.

If you currently have oral cancer please stick to your treatment, follow your doctor’s advise, and rely on your loved ones to keep your spirit strong. Cancer is a tough enemy, and we must use any weapon we can find to win the battle.

If you’re struggling to find an affordable dental plan, SHD offers great options for individualsfamilies and Seniors. Call now to get a free Quote!

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