Unfortunately, oral cancer has been labeled over the years as a disease of tobacco users. While a large percentage of oral cancers are the result of tobacco use, there are other risk factors that can increase your chance of being diagnosed.
Oral cancer affects the mouth, pharynx, tongue and other oral structures. The most common oral cancer affects the squamous cells in your mouth and multiplies quickly. It spreads to the lymph nodes of the throat, which is when it is most often diagnosed. There are many causes of oral cancer, including:
• Smoking: Tar, arsenic, benzene and cadmium are just a few carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) found in cigarettes.
• Drinking: Dehydration, cirrhosis of the liver and nutritional deficiencies associated with drinking can lead to oral cancer
• The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): This virus is mostly spread through skin-to-skin contact and oral-genital contact.
• Poor Dental and Oral Hygiene: Untreated dental plaque causes infection, which can accelerate cancer growth.
Although there are other causes, these top the list. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are more than 40,000 cases of oral cancer reported every year.
Be on the lookout for any of the following symptoms:
• A white or red patch in the mouth.
• Persistent sores, ulcers or irritation in the mouth cavity.
• Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, moving the jaw or tongue.
• Numbness in the tongue.
• A sore throat that doesn’t go away.
• A constant toothache or pain in the jaw.
• An earache.
If you are concerned about your oral health or have any of the warning signs listed above, see your dentist immediately. As in any disease, an early diagnosis and treatment can make a huge difference. So be vigilant and, even if you do not have any warning signs, visit your dentist for an annual oral cancer screening.