Oral Cancer

The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 3,400 new cases of oral cancer were diagnosed in Canada in 2010. It is also estimated that 1,150 of those Canadians diagnosed in 2010 will die from the disease.1

This too-often fatal condition has a greater mortality rate than both breast cancer and prostate cancer. However, oral cancer can be successfully treated if caught at an early stage.

Your dentist can play an important role in the early detection of oral cancer. Dentistry is about prevention and the dental exam is the foundation of good oral health. A dentist may notice subtle changes in the mouth that a patient won’t.

The oral cancer examination performed by your dentist during a routine dental exam is fast, easy and painless – and it could save your life.

Book your dental exam today – your health will thank you for it!

Learn about Oral Cancer

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer refers to all cancers of the oral cavity, which includes the following:

  • lips
  • tongue
  • teeth
  • gums (gingiva)
  • lining inside the lips and cheeks (labial mucosa and buccal mucosa)
  • floor of the mouth
  • roof of the mouth (palate)
  • the area behind the wisdom teeth

Most oral cancers are located on the sides of the tongue, floor of the mouth and lips.

Oral cancer starts in the cells of the mouth. Normally these cells are quite resistant to damage, but repeated injury from smoking, alcohol or even friction may cause sores or painful areas where cancer can start.

Symptoms

Oral cancer symptoms include:

  • a sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal
  • a lump on the lip or in the mouth or throat
  • a white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth
  • unusual bleeding, pain or numbness in the mouth
  • a sore throat that does not go away, or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing
  • swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  • a change in the voice and/or pain in the ear


Your Dental Exam
Your dentist does more than protect and care for your teeth, gums and smile — your dentist can also help keep you healthy.

As oral health experts, dentists are in a unique position to help in the early detection of many medical conditions, including cancer.

Dentists are trained in medicine so they recognize the relationships between oral and overall health.

Most people see their dentist regularly, so your dentist is often the first health-care professional to have an opportunity to detect the many health conditions that affect your mouth. Many patients are not aware of the extent that a dental exam can play in disease prevention.

Through the dental exam, your dentist can see if there are any abnormalities or changes in your mouth that might be indications of health problems, such as oral cancer or diabetes. At each visit, your dentist will conduct a medical history review and ask you about your current health.

It’s important to answer these questions carefully. What you say can help your dentist alert you to potential health concerns that may require further investigation, diagnosis or treatment by a physician.

Without an examination by a dentist, most early signs of oral cancer are difficult to detect. If you notice a mouth sore or anything out of the ordinary that does not go away or heal after a couple of weeks, discuss it with your dentist.

Risk Factors

  • Smoking and chewing tobacco — particularly if combined with heavy alcohol consumption
  • Heavy alcohol consumption— particularly if combined with smoking
  • Excessive sun exposure— particularly to the lip
  • Age— people over the age of 40 have a higher risk of developing oral cancer
  • Gender — men are more susceptible than women to developing oral cancer. In the past, men had a 6:1 ratio of incidence of oral cancer compared to women. However; this ratio is narrowing and is now closer to a 2:1 ratio
  • HPV— more research is emerging that connects human papillomavirus infection — especially HPV-16 — with oral cancers
  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables— fruit and vegetables have a protective factor that is believed to reduce the risk for oral cancers

Prevention

  • See a dental professional for a regular dental exam
  • Quitting (or reducing) your tobacco and alcohol use lowers your risk of developing oral cancer
  • When you are outside and exposed to the sun, use lip balm with UV protection and wear a hat
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Brush and floss your teeth daily

The mouth has long been recognized as a mirror reflecting the health of the body. With regular visits to your dentist and good oral health routines, you will have lots to smile about.

Links

References

  1. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2010. Toronto: Canadian Cancer Society.

Oral Health Month Television Campaign