What are the signs & symptoms of oral cancer?
Oral cancer appears as a growth or ulcer in the mouth that does not go away and can be located on the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses and throat. Just like any other cancer, oral cancer can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. The mortality rate of oral cancer is higher than that of cervical and prostate cancer. Dentists are normally on the front line of detection of oral cancer as most of the signs occur in the oral cavity which may include:
- Red and/or white patches in the mouth
- A non-healing ulcer on the lips or tongue
- Unusual bleeding in the mouth
- Unexplained numbness in the mouth
- Loose teeth
- Difficulty in swallowing or chewing
- A feeling that something is caught in the throat
- A change in your voice or speech
- A change in the way your teeth fit together
- Lumps or bumps in the mouth, throat or neck
- Weight loss
Common risk factors for developing oral cancer include:
- Chewing tobacco or betal leaf (pan)
- Alcohol consumption
- Sun exposure to the lips
- A previous diagnosis of any other form of head and neck cancer
- The human papilloma virus (HPV) (the same virus responsible for cervical cancer in women)
- Other pre-cancerous conditions in the mouth
How do regular dental check-ups aid in early detection of oral cancer?
As part of your routine dental check-up, your dentist will conduct a full oral screening. He/she will feel for any lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck and mouth and will look for any growths, ulcers and/or colour changes.
Should your dentist detect anything that looks suspicious he/she may either perform an oral biopsy or refer you to a specialist for relevant biopsies and tests. A biopsy involves taking a small sample of tissue to be analysed for any abnormalities.
It is important to be aware of the fact that over 25% of all oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke or consume alcohol. It is therefore recommended that oral cancer screening should be conducted on everyone at least once a year.
There is no easy way to prevent oral cancer but below are a few tips to help reduce your risks:
- Try to quit smoking and limit use of tobacco products
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Eat a well balanced diet
- Sun exposure to the sun should be in moderation. Use sun protective lotions on your skin and lips
- Try to conduct a self exam at least once a month and look for any suspicious sores, lumps and patches on your lips, roof of your mouth, lining of your cheeks, gums, tongue and the floor of your mouth.
- Call your dentist’s office immediately if you notice any changes in the appearance of your mouth or any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above
- Visit your dentist on a regular basis for a check-up and oral screening
Remember that early detection can save your life and increase your chances of successful treatment.