Frequently asked questions about oral cancer
Oral cancer is not one type of cancer, but rather several different types of cancer that occur in the mouth. Because of the symptoms and the location of the cancer, dentists serve a key role in identifying oral cancer.
Although it occurs in relatively low numbers in Australia compared to other kinds of cancer, its high mortality rate means it cannot be ignored. Let’s address some frequently asked questions about oral cancer.
Who gets oral cancer?
Anyone can get oral cancer, though certain lifestyle risks can put you at higher risk. Because oral cancer doesn’t discriminate, we screen everyone that comes in as a policy. Smoking and increased alcohol intake can put you at a higher risk of developing oral cancer. Oral cancer also tends to be more common in the over-40 age bracket.
The first thing we do in all our exams is to screen patients about their lifestyle. This includes asking whether they currently smoke, how much they currently smoke, if they have smoked in the past and how much alcohol they drink to assess their risk for oral cancer. It’s important to note that smoking cigarettes is not the only risky activity when it comes to oral cancer; chewing tobacco, smoking cigars, smoking marijuana or any other activity involving inhaling and burning the throat increases risk.
What does oral cancer look like?
Oral cancer can present as a sore or an ulcer that doesn’t heal. The floor of the mouth and the lateral border of the tongue are the most common areas where people get oral cancer. Sometimes, patients will notice a sore that hasn’t healed in their mouth. Oral cancer can also present as difficulty performing regular tasks such as chewing, swallowing, moving the jaw or tongue and even difficulty speaking.
Although we routinely screen for oral cancer, we encourage our clients to be upfront with any specific concerns they might have.
When we look at a sore, we can determine if it needs further diagnosis, in which case we would send the patient to an oral pathologist for a biopsy.
How is oral cancer treated?
Most importantly, oral cancer needs to be dealt with quickly because the mortality rate is very high; it has only a 50 percent survival rate over five years. The specific treatment depends on a lot of factors: size, stage and type. Because it is cancer, the treatments will likely sound familiar: radiation, excision and chemotherapy are a few possibilities.
How can I prevent oral cancer?
Research shows that most cases of oral cancer are caused by smoking and excess alcohol intake. Research also shows that risk increases when someone smokes and drinks. Quitting smoking and reducing your alcohol intake can reduce your risk of oral cancer.