In the past, oral cancer was most commonly associated with older men, typically those with a history of smoking. Many of the patients with oral cancer are younger, and many of them don’t smoke. Women are getting oral cancer at an accelerated rate. We should be aware and vigilant about the fact that oral cancer isn’t just something that affects the elderly. Learn what you can do to protect yourself from this devastating disease and how a visit with an oral surgeon can help you.
Facts about oral cancer
The U.S. will lose more than 10,000 men and women to oral cancer this year. Approximately 25% of oral cancer cases occur in patients younger than 55, but the average age of diagnosis is 62.
You can get oral cancer in almost any part of your mouth. Cancer commonly occurs on the lips, tongue, floor of the mouth, tonsils, and gums. The disease is rarely painful, especially in its early stages. Often, it is only discovered after it has spread, making treatment more challenging and reducing survival rates.
Why Does Oral Cancer Affect Younger Patients?
Oral cancer is well known to be associated with tobacco use. The combined effects of alcohol and tobacco can significantly increase the risk of cancer in patients who consume a lot of alcohol. Oral cancer remains a significant health risk due to tobacco and alcohol use, but doctors are seeing more cases of oral cancer occurring in patients without a history of tobacco use.
HPV exposure, a common STD, is associated with an increased risk of oral cancer. With more than 200 HPV strains, most of us will contract the virus at least once in our lifetimes due to changes in sexual habits. Most strains of HPV are harmless, but some, including the very common HPV 16, can cause cancer. Several types of cancer are linked to HPV 16, including anal, oral, penile, and cervical. Oral cancer is now the most common HPV-associated cancer, surpassing cervical cancer.
How Can I Prevent Oral Cancer?
Prevention is always better than treatment when it comes to cancer. If you make these lifestyle changes, your risk for oral cancer can be reduced.
- The use of tobacco should be avoided. The use of tobacco is a major risk factor for many types of cancer, including oral cancer. Do not use tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and snuff. If you already use tobacco, you should think about quitting. Tobacco use increases your health risks. Stopping tobacco use at any age can reduce your risk of cancer.
- Moderate Alcohol Consumption: Heavy drinking increases the risk of oral cancer. If you choose to drink, the American Cancer Society recommends that you limit yourself to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
- Vaccinate for HPV: HPV 16, a form of the human papillomavirus, increases the risk of many cancers. The virus can also be prevented with vaccines. Consult your doctor about HPV vaccinations.
- Sunscreen is essential for protecting your lips. If you’re going to be outside, apply a lip protectant that contains SPF.
- Boost Your Fruit and Vegetable Consumption: Fruits and vegetables have shown a preventative effect on many types of cancer. Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables in abundance.
Oral cancer screenings are extremely important.
If caught early, oral cancer can be treated before it spreads to other parts of the body. Oral surgeons are trained to look for signs of oral cancer and precancerous changes like erythroplasia and leukoplakia. You should visit your dentist or an oral surgeon regularly for screenings.
It is also valuable to conduct a self-examination. Patients should examine their mouth, neck, and tongue monthly for changes. If you observe any of these signs, contact our oral surgery office as soon as possible.
- White or red patches around the mouth
- Sores that don’t heal within 14 days
- A lump or thickening of the skin and tissues of the mouth.
- Hoarseness or sore throat.
- You have trouble chewing or swallowing.
- Masses or lumps on the neck
The mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems. Be familiar with it. Tell us if you notice anything unusual. We’re here to help diagnose and treat problems before they become more serious. Don’t ignore changes in your oral health.