Oral Cancer Risk Factors And Prevention

Oral cancer. It’s not a cancer you hear about very often, but surprisingly, it accounts for 2 percent of all cancer diagnoses. And that is a pretty big number considering all the other cancers you hear about, like breast cancer and colon cancer, to name a few. Cancers of the mouth are not common, but left unchecked, these cancers can have devastating impacts on your health and affect your appearance and your ability to talk and eat.

These cancers first appear as one of those annoying little ulcers you sometimes get in your mouth. The only difference is that these never heal. They don’t go away. Many times, these ulcers go unnoticed. They’re in a hard-to-see area and they’re often not painful. For all these reasons, they’re very difficult to diagnose.

The best defense you have is to make sure you go to your regular dental visits. Dentists are now trained to do a much more thorough exam, and they use tools like dyes and UV light tools that make it so much easier to detect cancerous tissue in the mouth

If your dentist suspects cancer, there are certain blood tests and tissue biopsies that can be done to make sure. There is also cutting edge research going on to develop saliva and blood tests that identify aggressive cancers.

Anyone can get oral cancer, but some are more likely than others. Here are the risk factors:

  • Increases with age, especially over age 55
  • Men are twice as likely as women
  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight, like outdoor workers
  • Poor nutrition, especially a diet lacking in fruits and veggies
  • Some genetically inherited diseases like certain anemias
  • Tobacco users, either cigarettes or chewing tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol drinkers
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV), which is linked with cervical cancer, has also been shown to cause some oral cancers

Like all diseases and cancers, the earlier oral cancer is detected, the better the outcome. Surgery, as opposed to chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments, is the best option for oral cancer. But removal of the oral cancer means removal of any affected tissue, so if you’ve had the cancerous lesion for a while, that might mean taking out a significant chunk of your gums, cheek tissue, or even your tongue. The more that is removed, the higher likelihood that it might affect how you eat or talk. You might even need to have lymph nodes in your neck removed to ensure all the cancer is eradicated.

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