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What Are the Signs of Oral Cancer?

The Oral Cancer Foundation found that Americans don’t have a strong understanding of the signs and risks of oral cancer. If caught early, oral cancer can be treated because early diagnosis reduces your risk of health complications and increases your rate of survival. And yet, statistics show that on average, one person dies from oral cancer every hour of the day, 365 days a year. Over 50,000 new cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancers will be diagnosed in the US this year alone. Oral Cancer Awareness Month helps kickstart the conversation with our healthcare and dental practitioners about the signs and risks of oral cancer.

What Does Oral Cancer Look Like?

 Conduct a self-exam once a month on your mouth. Feel inside the mouth, jaw, and neck, and look for:

  • White or red patches in the mouth
  • Persistent sores, ulcers, or irritation in the mouth cavity
  • Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness in the tongue
  • A sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • A constant toothache or pain in the jaw
  • An earache

If you come across anything suspicious, give your dentist a call right away. As with many diseases, an early diagnosis can make a huge difference for health outcomes.

What Causes Oral Cancer?

The main causes of oral cancer are due to lifestyle, age, poor nutrition, exposure to UV light, genetics, and other medical conditions. 

Smoking, Tobacco, and Oral Cancer: Tobacco can contribute to oral cancer because it contains cancer-causing agents called carcinogens. Tar, arsenic, benzene, and cadmium are just a few that are found in cigarettes. Vaping and chewing tobacco also present risks for developing oral cancer. About 75 percent of all people who get oral cancer use tobacco products. Your age when you started using tobacco and the length of time you’ve used it will vastly increase your risk for oral cancer.

Ultraviolet Light Exposure and Oral CancerThe Cancer Treatment Centers of America have found that, “Cancers of the lip are more common among people who work outdoors and visit tanning beds, and among those with prolonged exposure to sunlight.”

Drinking Alcohol and Oral Cancer: Did you know that drinking excessive alcohol increases your risk of oral cancer? If you drink a lot of alcohol and also use tobacco products, you have an even greater risk of getting oral cancer. Dehydration, cirrhosis of the liver, and nutritional deficiencies are all associated with drinking. These can also contribute to the development of oral cancer. 

Age, Nutrition, and Oral Cancer: The risk of developing cancer increases with age. Research tells us that men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer, and consuming a lot of fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and seafood can help protect us against oral cancer. 

Human Papilloma Viruses (HPV) and Oral Cancer: Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of more than 100 related viruses. Some are linked to the development of cancer, like oral and oropharyngeal cancers. In fact, 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers may be attributed to HPV. This virus is mostly spread through skin-to-skin contact and oral-genital contact.

Poor Dental and Oral Hygiene and Oral Cancer: Untreated dental plaque and tooth decay can cause an infection in the mouth and gums. This can accelerate the growth of cancer.

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