Oral cancer refers to the cancer of the mouth and throat.
It is the 15th most common type of cancer among females and the 10th most common type of cancer among males.
This article would discuss the risk factors for the development of oral cancer, the different types, its signs and symptoms, and some ways that can help prevent it.
The causes of oral cancer
One of the greatest risk factors to develop oral cancer is the consumption of alcohol.
If you drink alcoholic beverages very often, you are exposing yourself to the risk of developing oral cancer.
In fact, it was found in a study conducted in 2010 that individuals who consume at least four alcoholic drinks daily were five times more likely to develop cancers in the mouth or throat than those who only drank occasionally or do not drink at all.
If on top of alcohol consumption, you are a smoker, then your risk of developing oral cancer is increased greatly.
Tobacco contains a lot of cancer-causing substances and liquor makes it easier for your mouth to absorb these substances.
The combination of these two makes your body more vulnerable to these carcinogens.
A renowned mouth cancer specialist and professor Graham Ogden pointed out that your chances of getting oral cancer are increased by smoking one pack of cigarettes daily.
However, if you smoke one pack of cigarettes daily and consume alcohol regularly beyond the recommended alcohol limits, then your chances of developing oral cancer are increased greatly.
Your likelihood of developing oral cancer is substantially increased if your lifestyle is unhealthy.
Just like any other cancer and disease, if your diet is poor and if you do not maintain good oral hygiene, you are more likely to develop oral cancer.
There are over 100 types of HPV. While many of these are not harmful, some are cancerous.
HPV affects a person’s throat, mouth, anus, cervix, and skin. It is transmitted through sexual intercourse.
The results of a study conducted recently showed that the risk of developing throat and mouth cancers in HPV-positive individuals is 32 times higher.
To prevent the contraction of HPV, always use a condom when you have sexual intercourse, whether it is vaginal, anal, or oral.
Furthermore, as much as possible, stick to just one sexual partner.
Having multiple partners greatly increases the risk of HPV infection.
The different kinds of oral cancer
Oral cancer can be classified into 4 main types:
- Cancer of the larynx
- Cancer of the esophagus or “food pipe”
- Cancer of the pharynx
- Mouth cancer
The most common among these four is mouth cancer, but the cancerous tumors can grow anywhere in the throat and mouth, including the saliva glands and tonsils.
The symptoms of oral cancer
Early diagnosis of oral cancer is crucial because the earlier it is found out, the higher chances of it being treated completely.
Your probability of making a complete recovery is higher if the treatment is started early. The primary signs and symptoms of oral cancer are white or reddish lesions inside the mouth as shown in the picture above
They are usually found on the inside of the cheeks, on the floor of the mouth, or below the tongue. In addition, they usually do not heal quickly. They usually last for over 2 weeks.
If you notice a mouth ulcer that is not causing any pain or discomfort, you should still have a doctor or dentist check it.
It is only during the later stages of oral cancer that painful mouth sores or ulcers start to appear. An ulcer or swelling in the mouth may be oral cancer’s first symptom.
As mentioned earlier, you’ll have a higher likelihood of complete recovery if oral cancer is detected early.
During the more advanced stages of oral cancer, the ulcers or sores in your mouth may begin to bleed. They may also start to give you pain or discomfort. In addition, you might feel numb in the mouth.
If you observe any of these symptoms, it is imperative that you consult a doctor or a dentist right away. Normally, your mouth would quickly heal on its own.
Thus, if there are any long-term problems in your mouth, it is critical to have them examined by your doctor or dentist.
The person best equipped to detect any warning signs of oral cancer is your dentist. Thus, you should regularly undergo a dental checkup.
This applies even to those who don’t have any teeth anymore.
Your dentist can check your mouth and detect throat or mouth cancer even before you become aware of anything wrong.
Prevention of oral cancer
Compared to other types of cancer, oral cancer can be prevented through a number of ways.
The best steps to take to prevent the development of oral cancer are the following:
- Brush and floss your teeth regularly, and follow it up with mouthwash. The ideal frequency of brushing is after every meal. This is to maintain the health of your gums, teeth, and mouth.
- Consume a well-balanced diet.
- Have a regular physical activity.
- Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages. If you have to, make sure that you are drinking within or below the recommended alcohol unit limits.
- Do not smoke.
- Use a condom during sexual intercourse, whether it is vaginal, anal, or oral.
- Avoid having more than one sexual partner. As much as possible, limit yourself to just one sexual partner.
- If you are not yet infected with HPV, it is recommended that you get yourself vaccinated against HPV infection. These are available in any hospital and most clinics. Some clinics even offer this vaccine for free or at discounted rates.
Note that the last three steps listed above to prevent oral cancer will not give you 100% protection.
However, they will significantly decrease the likelihood of getting an HPV infection that can result in oral cancer.
If you have reasons to believe that you might have oral cancer or that you might be at risk for it, do not hesitate to consult a dentist or doctor.
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