This is a sobering fact: According to the Canadian Dental Association, every year over 3,200 Canadians are diagnosed with oral cancer. Although the occurrence is rare compared to other forms, the death rate from oral cancer is significantly higher due to it usually being discovered in the later stages of its development.
There is good news, though. If caught early, oral cancer is highly treatable. Back to back, those statements may seem to contradict each other, but it’s possible for those vigilant about their oral health to spot the warning signs.
Oral cancer usually affects the lips, gums, and tongue, as well as the lining of the cheeks, and the floor and roof of the mouth. You can be on the look out for:
- White, red, or mixed red and white spots / patches on your tongue, gums, or any other tissue in your mouth
- A sore in the mouth that bleeds easily and doesn’t heal
- Bleeding in the mouth
- Persistent tenderness, pain, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips
- A lump or thickening in the cheek or neck
- A thick, rough, or crusty spot, or small area that looks like it’s wearing away anywhere in the mouth
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, talking, or moving your jaw or tongue
- A change in your voice that isn’t due to cold or allergies
- Persistent earache
- Numbness of the lower lip and chin
The list is not conclusive, and while these symptoms may suggest oral cancer, only a health care professional can make that determination for sure. Book an appointment with your dentist or doctor right away if you notice any of the above mentioned symptoms.
Early diagnosis can make a huge difference in how oral cancer affects your life, but prevention is always better than the cure. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself:
Avoid tobacco in all forms – it’s responsible for roughly 90 per cent of all oral cancers!
Cut back on alcohol. Heavy alcohol use increases your risk of oral cancer, but when paired with smoking the risk shoots even higher.
Cover up in the sun. Cancer in lips can result from too much sun exposure, so use a lip balm with sunscreen and wear a hat.
Schedule regular check ups with your dentist – they are in the best position to keep track of changes in your mouth and spot the warning signs early.