Guest Blog: Risk Factors for Oral Cancer & Early Detection

Sunday 19 August 2018

Oral cancer affects the head and neck. Unfortunately, the prevalence of oral cancer in the United Kingdom is increasing, with a net increase in prevalence of over 30% in recent years.

If you are at risk for oral cancer, it is important to seek regular screening so that oral cancer can be detected at an earlier stage, allowing for treatment and ultimately better outcomes.

1. Risk Factors

Some behaviours are associated with an increased risk of developing oral cancer. These include using alcohol and tobacco, prolonged exposure to the sun, poor oral hygiene, and dietary factors.

Using tobacco is one of the most significant risk factors for head and neck cancers, including oral cancer. Eighty-five percent of all cases of oral cancer are linked to the use of tobacco products. Some types of tobacco use, such as pipe smoking can increase your oral cancer risk, and even second-hand smoke exposure can cause oral cancer.

Heavy drinkers contract oral cancer at higher rates than those who drink infrequently or not at all.

Prolonged sun exposure is correlated with oral cancer. To reduce your risk of oral cancer associated with sun exposure, use a sun cream that protects from UV rays or reduce your exposure of skin to the sunlight by wearing clothing that provides adequate coverage, wearing a hat, or staying indoors when the sun is most intense usually from midday to 4 pm.

People with poor oral hygiene and dental health have oral cancer at higher rates than people whose oral hygiene is adequate. This may include dentures that do not fit well, people who do not brush their teeth often enough, and those who do not see a dentist.

A diet that is low in fruits and vegetables and lacks certain vitamins, such as Vitamin A also has a positive association with an increased risk for oral cancer.

2. Early Detection

(a) Possible signs and symptoms of oral cavity 

Several signs and symptoms may be indicative of cancers of the oral cavity. If you are experiencing any of these, it is important to discuss them with your doctor right away.

The most common sign of oral cancer is a sore on the inside of the mouth that does not heal or go away. This could be a lump or thickening, or a red or white patch that may be sore or have no sensation, on the gums, tongue, or inside of the cheek.

Having a pain in the mouth that does not go away with time, any numbness or swelling in the mouth or persistent bad breath even with good oral hygiene can also be symptoms of oral cancer.

(b) How to Diagnose Oral Cancer

There are several tests a doctor can use to detect oral cancer, including panendoscopy, biopsy, and other imaging tests.

A panendoscopy is a diagnostic imaging technique where a doctor uses a camera on a tube to examine the inner aspect of the throat and mouth and view any visible lesions.

If a lesion or tumor is found, the doctor will take a biopsy of it to be sent for further examination in a lab. This is done by using a scalpel or other instrument to excise a small amount of tissue.

Imaging tests such as an X-ray or CT scan may also be done; this is especially useful to see if cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.

Things to Ask Your Doctor About Oral Cancer

1) How Can I Reduce My Risk of Developing Oral Cancer?
This question will guide your doctor to suggest the top things you can do to prevent cancer from occurring.

2) If I Have A Family Member with Oral Cancer, Am I At Increased Risk?
Asking this question will prompt your doctor to dig deeper into your family’s medical history to see how it will affect present and future risk.

3) Is My Diet Putting Me at Risk for Oral Cancer?
Your doctor may recommend dietary changes to reduce risk, such as increasing intake of fruits and vegetables containing vitamin A. They may also refer you to a dietitian or nutritionist.

4) Will I Develop Oral Cancer Because of Where I Live or Work?
If you live somewhere with a high level of sun exposure and work long days outside, you are at increased risk of oral cancer. Your doctor can help you understand by how much.

5) What Stage Is My Oral Cancer?
Oral cancers are organised and categorised into stages. This is something your doctor should discuss with you if you are diagnosed with oral cancer.

6) What Is the Prognosis of My Oral Cancer?
Based on the severity and stage of your cancer and whether it has metastasised, your doctor can give you a prognosis with different treatments.

7) What Is the Standard Treatment for My Type of Oral Cancer?
Knowing the most common treatment for the type and stage of cancer you have, and its advantages and disadvantages can help you come up with a course of action for your treatment.

8) What Other Treatments Are Available?
It may be that the most common treatment is not the most effective for your cancer, or other therapies are similarly efficacious with fewer side effects.

9) What Is the Single Most Important Thing I Can Do to Prevent My Oral Cancer from Recurring?
If you are a survivor of oral cancer, this is the most important health question you need to be asking your doctor.

10) Is There Another Specialist I Should Be Seeing?
Whether they recommend a dentist in Amersham or an oncologist in another town, asking this question will help to ensure you are receiving the best possible treatment.

Disclaimer: This article is contributed by a Guest Blogger. Ping of Health does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this article. Ping of Health disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.