Oral cancer is a significant health concern that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by an abnormal growth of cells that can occur in the mouth, lips, tongue, and/or throat. It has the potential to be life-threatening if not detected early enough. Prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment are essential to reduce its impact on your life.
Tobacco & Alcohol
Tobacco and Alcohol consumption/use are consistently linked with increasing your risk of oral cancer. Approximately 80% of oral cancers are associated with tobacco use (smoking and/or smokeless products). When tobacco use is combined with alcohol it amplifies the risk for oral cancer. It is suggested that the carcinogens present in tobacco and alcohol can damage DNA which leads to the development of oral cancer. (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/risk-prevention/diet-physical-activity/alcohol-use-and-cancer.html)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) strains have been identified as significant risk factors for oropharyngeal cancers (back of the throat and base of the tongue) (https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-vaccine-fact-sheet). According to the National Cancer Institute, HPV-related cancers are more common in younger people and non-smokers. HPV vaccines can reduce the risk of developing HPV-related oral cancers.
Betel Quid and Areca Nut
In our part of the world, Betel Quid and Areca Nut are not consumed as much, but other areas do consume it often like in South and Southeast Asia. I have seen it frequently while traveling in India myself. Betel Quid is a carcinogen that is associated with an increased risk of oral cancer especially in combination with tobacco use. Areca Nut contains compounds that can cause genetic damage and alter cellular processes contributing to oral cancer development. (https://monographs.iarc.who.int/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/mono85.pdf)
Good Oral Hygiene
Maintaining good oral hygiene practices, like brushing twice a day, mouthwash, interdental cleaning, and assessments, is essential not only for oral health but it has a role in preventing oral cancer. There is evidence of a link between poor oral hygiene habits and increasing the risk of oral cancer (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6414580/). Poor oral hygiene can lead to chronic inflammation which may contribute to DNA damage and impair the body’s natural defense against cancerous cells.
Early Detection & Screenings
Early detection and screenings are imperative for the successful identification and treatments which in turn improves survival rates; early detection allows treatment options that may be more effective. Ask your dental provider if they do oral cancer screenings! It’s critical to get checked for suspicious lesions and abnormalities in the mouth. You should also consider doing self-checks, so you can know what your mouth is like when it’s normal and identify any changes that you discover (https://files.cdha.ca/Education/Courses/Oral-Cancer-4page-booklet.pdf). Lesions may appear as a sore that doesn’t heal, lumps, or white/red spots/patches.
So, why not start great oral hygiene practices today, ensure you’ve had a recent oral cancer screening, change some carcinogenic habits, and check with public health on receiving an HPV vaccine if you haven’t? As a side result, this will also contribute to improving your overall health and well-being, and who doesn’t want that…