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107 S. Prospect Road, Bloomington, IL 61704

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Oral Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

dentist showing oral cancer treatment options

November is Mouth Cancer Action Month. Mouth cancer, also called oral cancer, is very preventable but remains the fastest-growing cancer, accounting for more than three percent of all new cancer diagnoses. That makes November the ideal time to increase awareness of the causes, symptoms, and treatments available, as well as prevention methods.

Since early detection and treatment provide the best prognosis, we encourage an oral cancer screening for everyone who is at least 18. The screening can be done during your annual exam, and it’s neither painful nor invasive. Your dentist will screen you during your exam. If you need to schedule an exam or have questions, call our Bloomington office, and we’ll be happy to help you.

Are Mouth Cancer and Oral Cancer The Same?

Yes, both are names for the same disease, and they encompass any type of cancer that develops in the mouth, whether it’s cancer in the cheeks, gums, lips, salivary glands, or any other area. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to detect during your oral hygiene routine, so you may have mouth cancer but be unaware of the fact. By the time you notice symptoms, it has spread. Since oral cancer is a squamous cell carcinoma, it spreads rapidly, but your dentist can detect anomalies that indicate its presence, so don’t neglect your regular exam and teeth cleaning.

What Should I Look for to Ensure My Mouth Is Healthy?

Although you won’t be able to detect the presence of mouth cancer, if you notice any of the following, call your dentist without delay:

  • An irritated or thickened area in your lips, mouth, or throat
  • A sore or ulcer that doesn’t heal after three weeks
  • Patches of red or white in your mouth
  • Numbness anywhere in your mouth, but especially in your tongue

 Any of the above may indicate the presence of oral cancer, but they may also indicate another issue that should be addressed before it escalates.

Are There Habits That Cause Oral Cancer?

Anything that can increase your likelihood of developing oral cancer is called a risk factor, but sometimes it develops with no known risk factors. Although it’s not generally considered genetic, if you have a first-degree relative who was diagnosed with the disease, your risk factor increases. A first-degree relative is a parent, child, or sibling. Lifestyle habits play a significant role in your likelihood of developing oral cancer, so pay attention to the following practices.

Alcohol Use or Abuse

If you regularly consume alcohol to excess, you substantially increase your risk factor. Excessive consumption is considered three or more drinks daily or 21 or more drinks weekly. Not only do you increase your risk of oral cancer, but of other diseases as well. The lining of the mouth is very sensitive and porous. Alcohol irritates the tissues, so they more readily absorb toxins from other substances that are in the mouth, such as from cigarettes. Your bloodstream carries the toxins throughout the body, so they lodge in your organs and can cause other types of cancer and illness.

Tobacco Products

Whether you smoke cigarettes or any other tobacco product, or if you vape, dip, use snuff, or chew, you’re more likely to develop some form of oral cancer. Tobacco products have been directly tied to two out of three new oral cancer diagnoses. Those who drink as well as smoke increase their risk sixfold over those who don’t.

Additional Risk Factors

Some additional risk factors can be controlled, but some can’t. The following may elevate your likelihood of developing oral cancer:

  1. Age: If you’re over 45, you’re more likely to develop oral cancer
  2. Gender: Those who are biologically male are statistically more likely to develop oral cancer than those who are biologically female
  3. Dentures: Wearing ill-fitting dentures that constantly chafe your mouth places you at higher risk
  4. Diet: If your diet lacks vegetables, fruits, and omega-3 fatty acids, you’re at increased risk for oral cancer
  5. Previous cancer: A previous diagnosis of head or neck cancer increases your risk factor
  6. Sun exposure: Spending a substantial amount of time in direct sunlight without wearing sun protection increases your risk factor
  7. Radiation: Exposure to radiation increases your risk factor
  8. Some intimate activities: Some types of sexual activities have been linked to an increase in oral cancer

If you meet many or all of the above, consider asking your dentist for suggestions on maintaining a healthier lifestyle. If you have questions, call our Bloomington office, and we’ll be happy to help you.

Can Oral Cancer Be Prevented?

Most of the above risk factors can be ameliorated by the following:

  • If you use tobacco, quit
  • If you drink alcohol immoderately, especially if you also use tobacco, get professional help
  • Consume a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Regulate your unprotected sun exposure
  • Avoid risky behaviors that increase your risk factors
  • Ask your dentist to adjust your dentures, so they fit properly
  • Be sure to clean your dentures daily

When you eliminate some of your risk factors, or many or all of them, then you decrease the likelihood of developing any type of oral cancer. Your cells are self-healing to a point, but they need to be healthy in the beginning if they are to do so.

How Will My Dentist Treat Oral Cancer?

If you are diagnosed with oral cancer, your treatment protocol will be unique to you. It will depend on several factors, such as the size and location of the cancer, how long you’ve had it, whether it’s localized or has spread, and your overall health.

Your treatment team will consist of your general dentist and an oncologist and may include a maxillofacial surgeon. The protocol may be limited to removing the cancerous tissue, or it may include one or more rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. However, the sooner it’s diagnosed and treated, the simpler the process, so don’t neglect your regular dental exams.

Need to Schedule an Appointment?

If you need to schedule an oral cancer screening, your annual exam and teeth cleaning, or any other dental procedure, then call The Foehr Group at (309) 740-4241 for an appointment. We’ll answer any questions you have and put you on the schedule as quickly as possible. We’re among the best in dentistry, and we’re sure you’ll be happy with the service you receive.

Call us today. You’ll be glad you did.

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The Foehr Group

107 S. Prospect Road, Bloomington, IL 61704

(309) 740-4241