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The Risks and Facts About Oral Cancer


The word “cancer” is never something that one wants to hear. No matter what type, where it is in the body, or which stage is in, it is just plain and simply an unkind and often fatal disease. Although it is nasty no matter how you look at it, we are going to take a closer look the specific role it plays within the mouth: oral cancer.

According to The Oral Cancer Foundation: “Close to 48,250 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year, causing 9,575 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours per day. Of those 48,250 newly diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years.”

Terrifying right? Let’s take a closer look at causes and facts that are connected to this horrible disease:

There are several known risks that can lead to oral cancer, but some who develop this disease have no affiliation to any of these risk factors at all. And some who have several of these risk factors never develop the disease at all. However, the human “rule of thumb” is always “better safe than sorry.”

Here is a look at some of the risk factors that could lead to oral cancer:

  • Poor Nutrition – Your parents didn’t make you eat your fruits and vegetables strictly because they enjoyed torturing you. The nutritional value of these super foods benefit you in many ways. They help give you a healthy body and mind. But beyond that, there is an increased risk for oral cancer in those who have a low fruits and vegetables diet. Have a salad, eat an apple, munch on some greens. Your oral health (and overall wellbeing) will thank you
  • Tobacco – This one is obvious. Everyone knows the dangers of smoking, chewing, or any other type of tobacco use, yet there are still people in this world who are willing to take that risk. Close to 90% of people who have oral cancer have been linked to tobacco use. Someone who smokes is 6 times more likely to get this disease and those who use smokeless tobacco (chew) increase their risk among the tobacco users by 50%. The direct contact to the lips and gums gives the disease a faster route to destroying your mouth, life, and can even be the cause of death
  • Alcohol – This on its own can increase the risk of developing oral cancer, but in conjunction with smoking they tend to amplify each other making the risk all the more serious. Heavy alcohol consumption mixed with tobacco use can be a deadly combination
  • Ultraviolet Light – Summer days’ equal barbeques, swimming pools, baseball games, and all sorts of outdoor fun, but the sun’s ultraviolet rays are our skins enemy. Many of those who develop oral cancer have outdoor occupations. Prolonged exposure to the sunlight can cause cancers of the lip. Any time you spend the day basking in the warmth of the sun, wear sunscreen and apply it often
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – This sexually transmitted virus has been linked to the development of oral cancer in nearly 20 percent of people who have the disease
  • Age – Age is the one thing that none of us can avoid, no matter how hard we try. As we grow older our bodies decide to shut down in various ways. Unfortunately, the likelihood of developing oral cancer increases with age as well. Half of all cases fall into the age category of 45 and above

Here are some common symptoms of oral cancer:

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Lump or mass in the neck
  • Lump or mass in the cheek
  • Persistent pain in the mouth
  • Sore within the mouth that won’t heal
  • Numbness of the tongue or other areas of the mouth
  • Difficulty moving the tongue or jaw
  • White or red patches on the gums, tonsil, tongue, or lining of the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Swelling of the jaw
  • Tooth pain or loosening around the jaw
  • Changes in voice
  • Unintentional weight loss

If you have experienced any of these symptoms, and they have lasted more than two weeks, it is important to have a health care professional take a look at what may be causing them. Oral cancer is no joke and regular visits to our office can be the difference between life and death. When oral cancer is caught early there is a higher chance of successful treatment. The longer it persists, the greater chance of it becoming fatal. If you have any unanswered questions about the risks of oral cancer, call our office and our knowledgeable staff will be happy to help.