April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re like me, you are curious about why we have special months like this. Well, I can tell you that Oral Cancer Awareness Month is no joke. More people need to be aware of this disease. The latest reports show that oral cancer is on the rise. And, in a lot of cases, it can be terminal.
One of the reasons disease rates are rising is due to lack of awareness. Oral Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect opportunity for people to learn about the risk factors associated with the disease. It’s also a great time to see your family dentist for an annual exam and oral cancer screening.
Oral Cancer in Canada: Is it really on the rise?
Recent studies have shown that oral cancer is on the rise. One particularly menacing strain of the disease is related to the human papilloma virus (HPV).
CBC reported that almost 4500 people in Canada will be diagnosed with HPV-related cancers, and of those, 1200 are expected to die.
One-third of those are women that will be diagnosed with cervical cancers. Another third will be people who are diagnosed with oral cancer. In my opinion, even one death from cancer is too many. Oral cancer is treatable, if diagnosed early. In fact, early diagnosis can double a patient's survival by 80-90%.
Before we delve into our suggested steps to oral cancer prevention, take a look at the infographic below by Vigilant Biosciences to get an idea of the risk factors and understand how oral cancer is growing in a world wide scale.
My Ultimate Guide: 9 Steps to Oral Cancer Prevention
So, how can you prevent oral cancer? These are recommendations I give to every person who sets foot in my family practice.
- Make home dental care a priority.
- Come see me at least once a year.
- Do oral cancer home evaluations every few months. (I will tell you how in just a bit.)
- If you notice anything out of the ordinary, contact my office immediately.
- Drink plenty of water, eat a nutrient-dense diet, and get plenty of exercise. Lifestyle choices are one of the number one factors in the prevention of cancer.
- If you smoke or chew tobacco—even e-cigarettes or marijuana—quit. We can talk to you about smoking cessation programs.
- Reduce your consumption of alcohol.
- Let me know if you have a family history of cancer and I will check you at every visit.
- Avoid excessive sun exposure, especially on your lips or head...wear a hat.
Do-It-Yourself Oral Cancer Evaluation: What to Look For
Regular home evaluations are one of the best things you can do to prevent oral cancer. This is something that everyone should do, particularly those with a history of cancer. Those who have had cancer before or have a family member with cancer need to be extra cautious.
- First, stand in front of a mirror, lift your chin and rotate your head. You’re looking for any lumps or bumps in your cheeks, chin, jawline, neck, or throat.
- Next, open your mouth and look at your throat, the roof of your mouth, your cheeks, inside your lips, and above and below your tongue.
- Check for any lumps, bumps, swelling, discoloration or unusual tissue changes.
When you come in for your next appointment, I will do something similar.
How do I perform an in-clinic oral cancer screening?
I visually check every inch of your oral soft tissue and lips as well as feel around your head, neck, throat, and cheeks for any lumps, bumps, swelling or unusual tissue changes. My standard practice is to do oral cancer screenings at every recall visit.
For at home tests, read University of Manitoba's handy information pamphlet about at-home oral cancer screenings:
Oral Cancer Prevention Month: Take This Opportunity to Schedule an Exam
As your family dentist, it’s my job to be concerned with your dental health. Not only that, I’m concerned with your overall health. Oral cancer is not something that should be taken lightly. It can—and often does—lead to other types of cancers, particularly esophageal and lung or can be the first noticeable sign of other types of cancers.
I want all of my patients to live healthy, happy, active lifestyles. If I can help you do that in anyway, believe me—I’m going to! That’s why I want all of us to take advantage of Oral Cancer Awareness Month and become more aware of the symptoms and risk factors of this disease. But let’s not stop there. Let’s do all we can to prevent oral cancer through annual dental examinations and a healthy, active lifestyle.
Have you already scheduled your next annual dental examination? If not, please give my office a call. We will check for decay and gum disease. Plus, I will do a no-cost visual oral cancer screening. My team and I look forward to hearing from you soon.