Oral cancer is not as openly discussed as other forms of cancer, but it actually affects more Canadians each year than cervical and ovarian cancers, as well as melanoma. Cancers of the mouth, throat and nasal passages make up the majority of oral cancers, so it is estimated that dental professionals diagnose almost 85% of oral cancers. This means your dentist and hygienist are your primary resources to catch any concerns as they arise.
Oral cancers occur most often in the following sites:
- The tongue
- The tonsils and oropharynx
- The gums, floor of the mouth, inside of cheeks and other parts of the mouth
Like many other cancers, oral cancers can be screened for at home as well. If you have any cause for concern, you should book a visit with your dentist to discuss. Our dental team utilizes a Velscope to screen each patient for oral cancers. This machine allows us to comfortably check your mouth and see any issues before you may notice them.
The most common symptom of oral cancer is an ulcer or sore in the mouth or on the lip that doesn’t heal within 2 weeks. Another common symptom of oral cancer is pain in the mouth that doesn’t go away. Here is how to perform an Oral Cancer Self Exam:
- Use a mirror and a bright light.
- Remove dentures if you have them.
- Look and feel your lips and the front of your gums. Hold your lips with your thumb and forefinger and feel for lumps.
- Tilt your head back and inspect the roof of your mouth
- Pull your cheeks out one at a time to see the inside surface of your mouth and the gums in the rear.
- Pull out your tongue and look at all surfaces of it.
- Feel your neck and under your lower jaw for enlarged lymph nodes, swelling or lumps.
While performing this exam, the signs and symptoms you are looking for include:
- white patches, red patches or mixed red and white patches on lips or inside of mouth
- a lump or growth on your lips, inside your mouth or on your tongue
- thickening of the inner cheek lining
- bleeding in your mouth
- an earache that doesn’t go away
- loose teeth (without other explanation)
- dentures that no longer fit
- slurred speech
- swollen salivary glands
- swollen lymph nodes
- numbness or loss of sensation in your tongue or lips
- jaw swelling
- voice changes
- painful swallowing
- weight loss
Many of these signs and symptoms can also be caused by diseases other than cancer, or even by other types of cancer. It’s very important to see a doctor or dentist if any of these conditions last more than 2 weeks so that the cause can be found and treated if needed.
One piece of positive news is that about 75% of oral cancers can be attributed to alcohol and tobacco use so you can dramatically reduce your risks by avoiding them. Many of the remainder of cases stem from an HPV infection which can be reduced by receiving the HPV vaccine prior to exposure.
Limiting these risk factors will help to reduce your chances of developing oral cancer. You should also keep an eye on your mouth through self assessment and regular visits to your dentist. Your dentist is also able to ensure they can distinguish between normal oral anatomy and use the Velscope to check for oral cancer.
Book an appointment now!