What is mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer is a dangerous abnormal growth that can affect any part of the mouth.
With Mouth Cancer Awareness day coming up on the 18th of September, Dr Richard Lee Kin explains a little more about the risks involved with mouth cancer.
What are the symptoms?
There are very few and you won’t always be able to spot the earliest warning signs of oral cancer. That’s why regular check-ups with both your dentist and physician are so important. Your dentist is trained to detect early warning signs of oral cancer. If you are a smoker and drink alcohol, your risk of developing oral cancer is increased significantly.
In addition to check-ups, you should see your dentist if you notice any of the following:
• A sore on the lips, gums, or inside of your mouth that doesn’t heal
• A lump or thickening in the cheek that you can feel with your tongue
• Loss of feeling or numbness in any part of your mouth
• White or red patches on the gums, tongue or inside of mouth
• Difficulty chewing or swallowing food
• Soreness or unexplained pain in your mouth, or feeling that something is caught in your throat with no known cause
• Swelling of the jaw causing dentures to fit poorly
• Change in voice
• Ireland now has a free national oral cancer screening day every year and patients have no excuse not to attend their dentist. Click here for more information.
Who gets mouth cancer?
If you use tobacco (smoked or chewed) and drink too much alcohol, you will greatly increase your risk of getting mouth cancer. If you do both together, your chances of getting it are even greater still. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can increase your risk of lip and skin cancer ;the chances of getting mouth cancer are greater for people aged over 40 years, but younger people can get it too. You are more at risk of cancer if you don’t eat a healthy diet.
How to detect mouth cancer?
Your dentist can spot mouth cancer early. If it is detected early, the chances of a cure are very good. At the moment a number of those diagnosed with mouth cancer every year in Ireland die of it because it is discovered too late.
You should expect your dentist to:
• look at your face and neck
• feel under your jaw and down your neck
• examine the inside of your mouth with a small mirror, looking at your lips, cheeks, tongue, the roof of your mouth and your throat. Your dentist can see parts of your mouth that you can’t easily see or feel yourself. Your dentist may notice something in your mouth that needs to be monitored or needs to be seen by a specialist.
How can I prevent mouth cancer?
Regular examinations mean that your dentist can spot problems early – and these include mouth cancer.
The main risk factors of mouth cancer are:
• Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes or marijuana
• Chewing smokeless tobacco, betel quid or paan
• Excessive alcohol consumption
• Using both tobacco and alcohol together – this greatly increases your risk
• Excessive exposure to sunlight or radiation
• A diet lacking in fruit and vegetables