Oral cancer is a growing health concern in the U.S. By the end of 2020 alone, more than 53,000 adults are expected to be diagnosed. That’s a lot of new cases – and while most oral cancers can be effectively treated, it is still a major health condition that should not be taken lightly.
Even thinking about oral cancer can cause anxiety and discomfort for dental patients – but understanding the contributing factors and the symptoms of oral cancer can help your mouth stay healthy as long as possible. If you do have early warning signs for oral cancer, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible to make your recovery as simple as possible.
But what are the leading causes for oral cancer? How do you know if you have the symptoms that could point to an oral cancer diagnosis? See below for an overview of the risk factors that contribute to oral cancer, as well as some of the most common symptoms.
Common risk factors for oral cancer
Oral cancer can happen at any time, but there are a number of habits and health conditions that can create a higher likelihood of developing cancer in your tongue, throat, cheeks, or lips. These include:
- Age: While most diagnoses occur when a patient is in their 60s and beyond, anyone who is at least 45 years old will be at an increased risk of developing oral cancer.
- Gender: Patterns of oral cancer diagnoses have shown that men are twice as likely to get oral cancer than women.
- HPV infection: If you have tested positive for the human papillomavirus (HPV), your risk of getting oral cancer is automatically higher. Some studies show that HPV could be directly linked to as much as 70 percent of oral cancer diagnoses across the country.
- Smoking: Using tobacco (and especially chewing tobacco) increases your risk of oral cancer exponentially. In fact, if you smoke cigarettes, pipes, or use chewing tobacco, you could be 10 times more susceptible to oral cancer.
- Excessive drinking: Many cases of oral cancer occur in patients who are also heavy drinkers. Alcohol is an irritant that damages cells, and as cells repair themselves, they could undergo cancerous growth.
- Poor dental hygiene: Poor dental hygiene can contribute to oral cancer growth by contributing to periodontal disease. Unhealthy gums can negatively impact your immune system function, which can in turn leave you more susceptible to cancer.
Of course, not all of these risk factors can be controlled. For example, you can’t stop the aging process (although you can certainly take steps to stay healthy and slow it down). If you smoke, drink regularly, or are falling behind on your at-home dental hygiene routine, start making changes today. Improving your lifestyle and habits can significantly decrease your risk of developing oral cancer.
Oral cancer symptoms
It isn’t always easy to recognize oral cancer symptoms: they can range from the painfully obvious to the occasionally uncomfortable. But knowing what to look for can make a huge difference in your ability to get diagnosed – and treated – as soon as possible. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for more than a week or two, you should make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
- Prolonged ear pain
- Long-lasting sore throat or the sensation that something is caught inside your throat
- Visible red or white patch(es) in your mouth
- Irritation, a lump, a sore, or an irregular patch of skin in your throat, lip, or mouth
- Trouble moving your tongue or your jaw
- Struggling to chew, speak, or swallow
- Prolonged numbness in your mouth or your tongue
- Swelling of your jaw that makes dentures fit poorly (or feel uncomfortable)
At TruBlu Dentistry, our goal is always to help our patients achieve long-lasting oral health. If you think you might be experiencing oral cancer symptoms – or want to learn more about how to prevent oral cancer – reach out to our office today.