Oral cancer. It’s one of those illnesses that doesn’t have quite as much awareness among people generally as it should do – and that’s because if it’s allowed to develop, it can be fatal, whereas if caught early then survival rates are much higher. The number of people who die in the UK from mouth cancer every year is approximately 1800 – and some of these deaths would have been preventable if the cancer had been identified earlier on.
The number of oral cancer diagnoses per year isn’t high enough for there to be a national screening program, but this needn’t mean letting symptoms go unnoticed if they do appear. The most important thing is to make sure you see your dentist for a check-up every so often. Dentists are trained to spot the signs of mouth cancer and, according to Cancer Research, are often the first people to notice the symptoms in patients.
Symptoms may include things like mouth ulcers that aren’t healing, swelling in the mouth that lasts for over three weeks, and white or red patches in your mouth or throat. For a full list of symptoms, check out the websites of charities like the NHS, plus there are factsheets available from health insurers and some useful information on the NHS Choices website.
In terms of minimizing the risk of mouth cancer, it’s essential to know what the risk factors are and to change your habits accordingly. One significant risk factor is tobacco. Given the extraordinarily well-known and often publicized link between smoking and lung cancer, it’s no surprise that smoking is responsible for the majority of oral cancer in the UK.
Another significant risk factor for mouth cancer – along with tobacco – is alcohol, which, when combined with smoking, increases the risk of mouth cancer further. Studies have shown that there is a link between increased alcohol consumption in Europe and higher mortality from mouth cancer.
Diet is also a factor in oral cancer – with high consumption of fried foods and red meat believed to increase the risk of getting the disease. Other risk increasers include poor oral hygiene, the human papilloma virus, and smokeless tobacco products.
So, in the main, the best ways of minimizing the risk of oral cancer coincide with a lot of other common-sense health advice – keeping to a healthy diet and avoiding smoking and alcohol – all the while making sure that you keep your teeth and gums in good shape. Regular checkups at the dentist will also help ensure that anything untoward is more likely to be spotted early.