Protecting Yourself Against Oral Cancer

02 May 2018


If there were a quick and painless way to identify pre-cancerous cells in the mouth of someone
you loved, would you want them to try it? What if that person were you? The truth is, as uncom-
fortable as it may be to even think of the word “cancer,” thinking about it, and thus detecting it
early, is key. That’s why, if you haven’t been to the dentist in a while, you should schedule a visit,
because while the oral exam that accompanies your cleaning may not be noticeable to you, it’s
often your earliest line of defense in the detection of oral cancer.
Lets take a quick look at a few of the risk factors and symptoms, and consider a few options you
may have to help reduce risk. Keep in mind that no list is exhaustive, and to always share with
each of your health care providers your concerns and strategies regarding your oral health.

Those at Risk for Oral Cancer
Passing certain age thresholds and engaging in certain lifestyle habits can place you at increased
risk for oral cancer. For example, men tend to have higher rates of oral cancers than women.
Here is the short list:
· Patients age 40 and older (95% of all oral cancer cases)
· Patients age 18-39 who use tobacco, are heavy drinkers, or may have a previously diagnosed
oral HPV infection.

Warning Signs
If you experience any of the below symptoms lasting more than 7-10 days, please seek the
advice of your doctor. Also, keep in mind that aside from an obviously sore throat, the below
symptoms can present themselves in the absence of pain. Look out for changes that can be
detected on the lips, inside the cheeks, palate, and gum tissue surrounding your teeth and
tongue. [Have you had the occasion to catch lesions early in a patient? Or, detect concerns
with salivary glands, or lymph nodes? Here would be an opportune time to mention that. You
don’t have to get too specific… rather, a simple mention that you’ve helped patients catch
things early. You could say something like: “At PRACTICE NAME, we occasionally run across
such concerns a few times a year, and are able to help patients get treatment early.”]
• Reddish or whitish patches in the mouth
• A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
• A lump or thickening on the skin lining the inside of the mouth
• Chronic sore throator hoarseness
• Difficulty chewing or swallowing

Reducing risk
If you do not visit the dentist regularly, you could be missing out on the benefits of early cancer
detection. Currently, just over half of all those diagnosed with oral cancer survive more than
five years – a statistic driven by late diagnosis – so please visit your dentist and get an oral
exam at least once a year. If you are considered “high risk,” (see list above) you should be
receiving an oral exam at least every six months, if not more frequently.
Below is a short list of healthy habits you can start doing now, which may reduce your risk.
• Avoid all tobacco products
• Avoid or reduce your consumption of alcohol
• Consume more fruits and vegetables (good for everything, of course)
• Avoid excessive sun exposure that can result in cancer of the lip (using lip balm with an SPF
of at least 30 can be helpful)
• Avoid exposure to environmental hazards (wood dust, formaldehyde, printing chemicals)
• Conduct a self-exam monthly so you can catch any of the symptoms listed above. Use a
small hand-held mirror so you can see the back of your mouth and tongue [Here would be
a great place to mention your staff by name… let patients know who they could ask for this
sort of instruction… something like this could work: “NAME OF STAFF, is a great person to
ask for instructions on this sort of home exam. If you haven’t been in to see us in a while,
give us a ring at PRACTICE PHONE, and we’ll show you how to perform this exam in
between visits.]
• Consider coffee. While the jury is still out, some research suggests coffee may help protect
the mouth from oral cancer.

Oral cancer is serious business. Yet, it can be managed when caught early. So, do the right thing
and visit your dentist regularly, and get that screening.