Today, oral cancer is still a major health issue. Today, oral cancer is the 6th most common cancer, affecting the lips, tongue, soft palate and cheeks. In Australia, when statistics for all types of oral cancer are combined, they result in more deaths each year than for cervical cancer. For early detection of oral cancer there is a 70 per cent five year survival rate, compared to just 30 per cent if the cancer has spread. As with other forms of cancer, early detection and treatment of cancerous tissues is of paramount importance to increase survival chances. Oral cancer lesions can be particularly rampant. Two thirds of all those diagnosed with oral cancer are men.
From oral signs of childhood diseases such as some forms of leukemia, to oral cancers seen more in the elderly, your dentist has been trained to detect oral (and even facial) cancer lesions at all stages of development. Each time you visit with your dentist for a dental check-up, an oral cancer screening is performed. You are usually not aware that this is being done. Therefore, regular dental visits are crucial as part of your regular health maintenance programme. Wearing dentures does not preclude you from the need for regular oral health checks. In fact, if you are an older patient, you are even more at risk of developing oral cancer.
Detecting Oral Cancer
You can take an active role in detecting early signs of oral cancer by checking your own oral tissues periodically. Take a few minutes to examine your lips, gums, cheek lining and tongue, as well as the floor and roof of your mouth. If you discover any of the following and the condition persists, contact this office for an examination:
- a colour change in the oral tissues (for example, whitish or red spots);
- a rough spot, lump, thickening, crust or a small eroded area;
- a sore that bleeds easily or that does not heal;
- bleeding gums (in some cases);
- pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips;
- any difficulty in chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue;
- changes in the voice;
- a change in the way your teeth fit together.
In addition, you should watch for changes beyond the mouth that could signal oral cancer:
- drastic weight loss;
- a lump or mass in your neck.
Minimising the Risk of Developing Oral Cancer
- Avoid the use of any form of tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco), especially coupled with heavy alcohol consumption.
- Avoid prolonged, repeated exposure to the sun, which may increase the risk of cancer to the lips.
- Studies indicate that diets low in fresh fruits and vegetables can also increase your overall risk of developing cancer.
- Other possible risk factors include genetics, liver function and certain medications.
The following photos are kindly provided by the Australian Dental Association. They show cases of more advanced oral cancer. Unfortunately, most oral cancers progress rapidly, so it is imperative that you visit your dentist as soon as possible if you have any of the signs or symptoms mentioned previously.
Images on this page of advanced oral cancer are reproduced courtesy of the Australian Dental Association.