Oral cancer is a common disease, according to the American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site, and it can be serious if left untreated. However, if the disease is confronted as soon as it appears, patients can have a positive recovery. Regular dental checkups will increase the likelihood that suspicious irritations in your mouth are found early. In between visits, get to know the signs of oral cancer and what to do if you find them, along with the lifestyle practices that can affect your risk.
What Are the Signs?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the condition can produce a white or reddish patch inside the mouth, as well as a lump or thickening of the skin or mouth lining. Other symptoms involve tongue pain, loose teeth, jaw pain, difficulty in chewing or swallowing or even just a sore throat. However, a sore that doesn't heal, jaw stiffness or a feeling that something is caught in the throat should also be red flags.
Where Do the Signs Occur?
The signs of oral cancer can occur anywhere within the mouth. This includes the gums, lips, tongue, roof of the mouth, floor of the mouth and inside lining of the cheeks. Patients should also be mindful of the throat, which is the passageway that connects the mouth and nose to the esophagus and larynx.
What Causes the Signs?
Oral cancer occurs when cells inside the mouth undergo minor mutations that cause them to grow and divide instead of dying off like typical, healthy cells. These changes can often produce a tumor, and the cancer can spread to other parts of the body if not kept in check. Fortunately, if the cancer is detected when it is very small, it can be removed through a minor procedure called transoral robotic surgery, which has a quick recovery time compared to traditional oral surgeries. Although doctors don't know what causes the healthy cells to turn into cancerous ones, they have pinpointed a few factors that can raise your risk.
Acting on the Signs
If you have symptoms that linger for two weeks, it's time to make an appointment with your doctor or dentist. You can prepare for the visit by writing down all your signs, making a list of your medications and jotting down the questions you want to ask. If you have to wait a few days before you can see a doctor, try to avoid eating spicy or hard foods to avoid aggravating those symptoms. Feel free to drink nutritional beverage supplements if eating is painful.
Managing Your Risk
Certain lifestyle practices can increase or decrease your likelihood of contracting oral cancer. Because tobacco products are associated with a greater cancer risk, you may want to avoid the use of cigarettes, pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco (also known as snuff). Heavy alcohol use is linked to the disease as well, so it's best to drink only in moderation, especially if you suspect you're prone to the condition. Excessive sunlight exposure to the lips is another risk factor, so protect yourself by staying in the shade whenever possible, use of sunscreen and by wearing a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face. The sexually transmitted disease human papillomavirus (HPV) is also known to increase your risk of oral cancer, so be sure to communicate with your partners, consider safe sexual practices and talk to your doctor about getting tested.
Good oral hygiene can only help you prevent this malignancy, so floss daily and brush regularly with a soft-bristled toothbrush like Colgate® Slim Soft™. Including a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet will also reduce your chances of contracting this illness.
Being familiar with the signs of oral cancer will help you quickly notice anything abnormal that may develop within the mouth. The earlier this malignancy is diagnosed, the easier it will be to treat.