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As you may have read on our Facebook pages, April is Oral Cancer Awareness month. Oral cancer, as defined by NIDCR (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research), is cancer of the mouth and pharynx. Nothing sounds good about cancer, but how do you get oral cancer? What are the signs of oral cancer? What can you do to prevent it? Keep reading to find out!

Oral Cancer Facts
  • Approximately $3.2 billion is spent in the U.S. each year for head and neck cancer treatment.
  • According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 43,250 people in the United States will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer this year.
  • Oral cancer will cause over 8,000 deaths this year, which is roughly 1 person every hour.
  • The average life span after being diagnosed is 5 years.
  • The average age of discovery is 40, although as of recently the average age has been declining.
  • The ratio for men to women is 2:1
How do You Get Oral Cancer?

There are several things that put you at risk for oral cancer, however the good news is that you can prevent a lot of these yourself! Two factors that you cannot prevent, unfortunately, are age and a history of cancer in your family. The older you get, the higher the risk for oral cancer, especially for those over 40. Another large factor is the use of tobacco and alcohol. Those who smoke or use tobacco are 6 times more likely to develop oral cancer as compared to those who do not smoke or use tobacco. Even those who use smokeless tobacco are at risk. In fact, smokers are 50 times more likely to get cancer of the cheeks, gums, and lining of the lips. Using just alcohol or tobacco alone is damaging to your oral health. However, you are 6 times more likely to develop oral cancer by using them together. Another factor that can increase your risk is excessive exposure to the sun, especially at a young age. Also, those who have been exposed to HPV are more likely to develop oral cancer. In addition, recent study suggests that there is a link between oral cancer and HPV 16 in young people who have not participated in smoking or drinking.

What are the Signs of Oral Cancer?

One of the scary things about oral cancer is that it can go virtually unnoticed in the early stages. Symptoms include the following:

  • A white or red patch in the mouth
  • A feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing,swallowing, moving the jaw or tongue, and speaking
  • Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or change in voice
  • Ear pain
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
  • Unexplained numbness, loss of feeling, or pain/tenderness in any area of the face, mouth or neck
What can I do to Prevent Oral Cancer?

The best preventative methods for oral cancer are eating a well balanced diet, limiting tobacco and alcohol consumption, and limiting exposure to the sun. In addition to these simple steps, conducting self-exams and regularly scheduling visits to your dentist will lessen your risk of oral cancer. To conduct a self exam, examine the roof of your mouth, inside of your cheeks, sides of your neck, lower jaw, and back of gums for red or white patches, lumps, or enlarged lymph nodes. It is best to have your dentist also check for signs of oral cancer at your regular check-ups. Your dentist can see those hard-to-reach places and tiny spots that you may not be able to see on your own. Be on the lookout for special offers regarding oral cancer screenings at your local CDA office!

Sources: Oral Cancer Foundation, WebMD, NIDCR

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