According to the Canadian Dental Association, oral cancer is the 13th most common cancer diagnosed each year in Canada. Oral cancer can develop in any part of the mouth, including on the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, roof of the mouth, sinuses, and throat.
Like any kind of cancer, oral cancer can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. You are the most important factor in the early diagnosis of oral cancer through routine screenings by a professional and self-examinations between checkups.
Your dentist has the skills and tools to ensure that early signs of cancer and pre-cancerous conditions are identified. While these symptoms may be caused by other, less serious problems, it is very important to visit your dentist to rule out the possibility of oral cancer. The most common symptoms of oral cancer include:
Red or white spots or sores anywhere in the oral cavity.
A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal.
A lump, thickening, or rough spot.
Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips.
Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue.
Your dentist is trained in a simple, quick screening which involves the examination of the oral cavity as a whole and not just your teeth to detect cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions. Besides a visual examination of your mouth, your dentist will also feel the tissue of your mouth and throat to detect any abnormalities. If your dentist finds an area of concern, he or she may perform a simple test, such as a brush test. A brush test collects cells from a suspicious lesion in the mouth to be sent to a laboratory for analysis. If this test comes back atypical or positive, your dentist may recommend a biopsy.
Oral cancer is often treated with surgery or radiation alone to treat the cancer in the earliest stages. In more advanced cases, a combination of surgery and radiation is the most common treatment. In the late stages of oral cancer, a combination of radiation with chemotherapy with or without surgery is usually used.
The best way to prevent oral cancer is to avoid all tobacco products and only drink alcohol in moderation.
Maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
Limit your exposure to the sun and always wear UV-A/B-blocking, sun-protective lotions on your skin as well as your lips.
During your next dental appointment, ask your dentist to perform an oral exam. Early detection of oral cancer can improve the chance of successful treatment.