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Oral Cancer & Protecting Yourself

Knowing the risk factors as well as the signs of oral cancer can go a long way toward limiting the influence this disease can have on your life.

Signs of Oral Cancer

As with many forms of cancer, early detection of oral cancerous lesions can improve the chances of successful treatment. You can take an active role in detecting signs of oral cancer early by checking your oral tissues periodically. Take a few minutes to examine your lips, gums, cheek lining and tongue, as well as the floor and roof of your mouth. You'll want to note any of the following:

  • A colour change in the oral tissues (e.g. whitish or red spots)
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
  • Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Changes in the voice
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together

In addition, watch for changes beyond the mouth that could signal oral cancer:

  • Drastic weight loss
  • A lump or mass in your neck

If any of these conditions persists, contact dental clinic centres for an examination.

Minimising the Risk of Oral Cancer

You can take steps to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer by avoiding behaviours that researchers have identified as being strongly associated with the development of oral cancer.

Use of any kind of tobacco product (cigarettes, pipe tobacco, cigars or smokeless varieties such as snuff and chewing tobacco), particularly when combined with heavy alcohol consumption has been identified as a major risk factor for oral cancers. While this combination poses the primary risk for development of oral cancer, chemicals associated with cancer have been detected in all forms of tobacco.

As with some forms of skin cancer, prolonged, repeated exposure to the sun may increase the risk of cancer on the lip especially the lower lip. Try to stay out of the sun as much as possible. If your profession or your leisure activities require that you spend extended periods outdoors, take precautions to minimise the effects the sun might have on your lips.

Other possible risk factors in the development of oral cancer include genetics, liver function and certain medications. Diet may play a role. Some studies suggest that a diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables can increase your overall risk of developing cancer.

The Importance of Professional Dental Care

Regular visits to a participating dentist are important in protecting yourself from the effects of oral cancer. As part of your regular dental examination, a participating dentist can quickly and easily check the oral tissues for sign of cancerous and precancerous lesions. Detecting and treating cancerous tissues as early as possible is critical in helping you beat a potentially deadly disease.

Cancer Treatment and Oral Health

Dental care is an important element of cancer treatment. As soon as possible after a diagnosis of cancer is made, your treatment team should involve a participating dentist. If you will undergo treatment, you should do the following:

  • Schedule a dental examination and cleaning before cancer treatment begins and periodically during the course of treatment
  • Inform participating general and cosmetic dentists that you will be treated for cancer
  • Discuss dental procedures such as extractions or insertion of dental implants with your oncologist before starting the cancer treatment
  • Ask a participating dentist to check and adjust removable dentures as needed
  • Inform a participating dentist and physician about any bleeding of the gums, pain or unusual feeling in the teeth or gums, or any dental infections
  • Update your medical record with a participating dentist to include the cancer diagnosis and treatments
  • Provide a participating dentist and oncologist with each other's name and telephone number
  • Maintain excellent oral hygiene to reduce the risk of infection
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