We are open - safety is our top priority!
Posted on: November 16, 2022
Oral Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments
November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, so we’re providing information on oral cancer, its causes, symptoms, and the available treatment methods. When detected and treated early, oral cancer is easily preventable, but too many people ignore their annual dental exams and develop oral cancer. Don’t be one of those statistics. If you need an oral cancer screening or an annual exam, call our Dalton office for an appointment.
How Do I Know If I Have Oral Cancer?
Since oral cancer presents asymptomatically, the best way to detect it is through an oral cancer screening from your dentist. We recommend that everyone who’s at least 18 gets screened for oral cancer. No matter the quality of your oral hygiene regimen, you won’t be able to detect oral cancer if you have it until it has spread. There are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, which is the time it’s the most preventable.
However, if you notice any of the following, then call our Dalton office for an appointment:
- One or more areas of thick or irritated skin in your lips, mouth, or throat
- Any open sores that haven’t healed after three weeks
- Numbness anywhere in your mouth
- White or red patches in your mouth
Although none of these indicate that you have oral cancer, they are anomalies that should be examined in case they’re related to oral cancer or another disease.
Are There Specific Causes for Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer can appear in those who have no risk factors, although it usually doesn’t. For this reason, we recommend regular dental exams so your dentist can detect the presence of oral cancer even if you have no symptoms and few or no risk factors. Some of the causes for oral cancer are the same as for other cancers, such as persistent, long-term irritation of an area. The most common risk factors for developing oral cancer are as follows.
Many times, those who develop oral cancer have a history of alcohol abuse, which is defined as having more than 21 alcoholic drinks weekly or more than three drinks daily. Alcohol irritates the sensitive tissues in the mouth and enables them to absorb harmful substances such as those found in cigarettes. When the substances pass through the thin membranes in the mouth, the bloodstream transports them throughout the body, and they become part of all your organs.
Tobacco use is the most common reason people develop oral cancer. It doesn’t matter whether you smoke cigarettes, vape, chew, dip, or use tobacco in any other fashion. Tobacco is the leading cause of oral cancer. The type of oral cancer that develops will depend on the type of tobacco used. Chewing tobacco is more often linked to cancer of the cheeks, gums, and lips. Smoking tobacco is more commonly linked to lip and soft palate cancers. Using snuff is more commonly associated with gum disease and cancer. However, all types of tobacco are linked to a 66 percent increase in oral cancer. In addition, those who drink alcohol and smoke have a sixfold increased risk of developing oral cancer over those who do neither.
In addition to the above, the following are risk factors for developing oral cancer, some of which cannot be controlled:
- Age: If you’re 45 or older, you’re more likely to develop oral cancer
- Gender: If you were born male, you’re statistically more likely than a woman to develop oral cancer
- Dentures: If you wear dentures and they fit poorly and constantly irritate your gums and mouth, you’re at a higher risk for developing oral cancer
- Diet: If your diet lacks fruits, vegetables, and omega-3s, then you’re at increased risk
- Previous cancer: Having a previous diagnosis of head or neck cancer increases your risk factor
- Sun exposure: Spending a substantial amount of time in direct sunlight increases your risk factor
- Radiation: Exposure to radiation increases your risk factor
- Some intimate activities: Specific types of sexual activities have been linked to an increase in oral cancer
Having any of these doesn’t mean you’ll develop oral cancer. However, if you have several, you might consider getting screened and asking your dentist for suggestions.
How Can I Prevent Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is one of the easiest to prevent, yet it’s one of the fastest-growing cancers, so people aren’t taking steps to prevent it. The following lifestyle habits may help you prevent the onset of oral cancer:
- If you smoke, quit
- If you abuse alcohol or drink excessively, get help and learn better relaxing and coping skills
- Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids
- Limit your unprotected sun exposure
- Ask your dentist to adjust your dentures, so they fit properly and don’t irritate your mouth
- Be sure to clean your dentures daily
A regular dental exam and teeth cleaning is one of the best ways to prevent oral cancer. No matter the quality of your oral hygiene regimen, you may develop anomalies that only your dentist can detect, including oral cancer. We recommend that all our patients who are at least 18 get screened for oral cancer. The screening is painless and non-invasive. Your dentist will screen you during your exam.
What Are the Treatments for Oral Cancer?
There is no standardized treatment for oral cancer because each case is unique to the individual. Your dentist will formulate a treatment protocol in conjunction with an oncologist and a maxillofacial surgeon, if necessary, and advise you on the best course of treatment. Of course, prevention is the best treatment, but things happen. Your treatment may be as simple as removing the cancerous tissue or as complex as rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. Your treatment team will consist of your regular dentist, an oncologist, and possibly a maxillofacial surgeon.
If you need to schedule an oral cancer screening, call Drs. Grant and Conger at (706) 847-4165, and we can help you. The screening doesn’t take long, but it’s an excellent investment in your oral health. Considering that your oral health is directly correlated to your physical health, you can make both your body and your mouth healthier, so don’t delay making an appointment during November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month.
Call us today. You’ll be glad you did.