STAYING INFORMED ABOUT the symptoms and risk factors of oral cancer is incredibly important. We oral health professionals are on the front lines of the battle against oral cancer, and we want to recruit our patients to fight with us.
By far the biggest risk factor is tobacco use. Another is frequent, heavy alcohol consumption. Oral cancer affects twice as many men as women and people over age 45 are at greater risk. Other risk factors include too much sun (which can cause lip cancer), HPV, and neglecting oral hygiene. Children are less at risk, but that can change if they start using tobacco — just one more reason why parents should discourage their kids from smoking or vaping.
Oral cancer symptoms include red or white patches in the mouth, a sore that doesn’t heal, strange thickness in the cheek, an unusual lump, numbness of the mouth or tongue, a persistent feeling of having something stuck in the throat, chronic bad breath, and difficulty chewing or swallowing.
The great news is that survival rates for oropharyngeal cancers have been increasing for the last 30 years. The way we continue that trend is with awareness and early detection. The first person to spot early signs of oral cancer is often the dentist during a routine dental exam!