As a dental clinician we are trained to look for and identify oral cancer. Although not common it is on the increase and it is important to be aware of the key risk factors as well as signs and symptoms to look out for.
The two biggest risk factors linked to oral cancer are smoking and alcohol. The two combined more than double your risk. It is estimated that more than half of mouth and throat cancers in the UK are caused by smoking. Chewing tobacco will also significantly increase your risk, similarly will chewing betel which is popular in Asian and Oceanic cultures.
A third of diagnosed mouth and throat cancers are attributed to the consumption of alcohol. It is therefore important to drink responsibly and within the current NHS recommendations (currently 14 units per week for both men and women). This should be spaced out through the week and not consumed in one go. The link below provides a quick method of calculating your alcohol unit intake.
There are several other notable risk factors;
- Diet – a poor diet, lacking in vitamins and minerals has been linked to almost half of all diagnosed oral cancer.
- HPV (human papillomavirus) – a sexually transmitted disease which has been linked to certain oral cancers. All girls aged 12 to 13 are offered HPV vaccination as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
- Sun over exposure/sunbed use increase the risk of lip cancer so it is important to protect lips with a high SPF sunscreen.
These are possible symptoms of oral cancer:
- Ulcers that do not heal
- Continued pain or discomfort
- Red or white patches
- Lump in neck, mouth, throat or lip
- Change in voice or difficulty speaking
- Difficulty moving jaw
The key with any cancer is early detection. Visit your dentist and hygienist regularly so that routine oral cancer screening can be carried out. If you notice any of the above symptoms especially lesions that do not heal within two weeks make an appointment to see a dental clinician or your GP so they can be checked out.