As dental professionals like to remind everyone, prevention is better than cure. With global incidence slowly growing in recent years, oral cancer is becoming a significant health problem. Just in 2018, the United States is expected to have more than 50.000 new cases and about 10.000 related deaths.
Primary causes include smoking and the use of other tobacco products (snuff, dip), which increase the risk by approximately six times. Next is alcohol intake, excessive exposure to the Sun (more damaging for younger people), certain Human Papillomavirus (HPV) strains and genetic predispositions. Also, studies show that men are more likely to develop oral cancer than women.
The disease can affect any part of the mouth or throat, including lips, tongue, cheeks, hard or soft palate, sinuses or pharynx. Osteoradionecrosis of the jaw (ORN) is considered the most serious form as it is particularly aggressive and causes chronic pain surface ulceration. In situations such as these, the bone becomes exposed, failing to heal after the radiation treatment.
Doctors recommend good dental care, hygiene and eating a healthy and balanced diet. Nutrition can play an important role, as regimens rich in antioxidants and based on fruit and vegetables can help prevent malignancy.
Dentists are usually the ones that spot initial signs, and this is why regular check-ups are essential. They can order biopsies or examine lesions and properly advise on the best course of action.
Oral health is obviously paramount in preventing problems and even improving outcome. If caught early, five-year survival rates are over 80%, though this number drops significantly (hovering around 50%) the longer symptoms go untreated.
Even though you might not like visiting the dentist’s office, consider making these small lifestyle changes to reduce your risk.