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Visit Your Dentist to Cut Risk of Oral Cancer

by Lucy Stock BDS DipImpDent RCS (Eng)

Published in the Irish News . 04.04.2012

The latest figures show that mouth cancer has risen by over 40% in the last decade. Trends show that younger and younger people are getting mouth cancer. While men get oral cancer twice as often as women do, particularly men older than 40.

If the cancer is found early, before it has spread, the cure rate is nearly 90%. About 1 in 4 persons with mouth cancer die because of delayed diagnosis and treatment. Most times areas of concern are normal buts it’s always best to get it checked.

Alcohol and smoking are the main causes of mouth cancer. Also diet, HPV virus which can be sexually transmitted and diseases that affect your immune system (e.g. HIV and organ transplants) can increase the risk of developing mouth cancer.

Smoking and alcohol are thought to cause about three-quarters of mouth cancers. In the UK alcohol consumption which has more than doubled over the past 50 years is adding to the problem of mouth cancer. However non smokers, non drinkers and passive smokers can get mouth cancer too.

Mouth cancer can start like a sore, a lump or a non healing ulcer in the mouth:

  • It may be a deep, hard-edged crack
  • It may be bleeding
  • Most often whitish coloured area, but may be dark or discoloured
  • Found on the tongue, lips, gums, cheeks, roof of the mouth or under the tongue
  • Usually painless at first (may develop a burning sensation at a later stage)

Other symptoms may be: chewing or tongue problems, mouth sores, pain or difficulty when swallowing, speech difficulties, swollen lymph nodes in the neck or weight loss.

Your dentist can examine the area and a biopsy, small part of the area, and xray may be taken for a closer look.

What you can do:

  • Avoid smoking or other tobacco use
  • Have sharp fillings, edges or dentures smoothed
  • Limit or avoid alcohol use
  • Practice good oral hygiene
  • Practice safe sex
  • Eating fresh fruit and vegetables may have a protective benefit

See your dentist or doctor if you have a sore in your mouth or lip or a lump in the neck that does not go away within 1 month. Early diagnosis and treatment of oral cancer greatly increases the chances of survival. If in doubt get checked out.