Mouth cancer is an important global healthcare problem. There are more than 300 cases of cancer of the mouth (oral cavity and pharynx) reported in Ireland every year. These cancers are more common in men than in women. However this is changing. The incidence rate of cancer of the mouth in women has increased significantly at a rate of 3% per year since 1994. It mainly affects older people although younger people are being diagnosed now. In Britain, the incidence of mouth cancer has increased faster than any other cancer in the past 25 years. Oral carcinoma is a cancer that affects the mouth and portions of the throat, spreads quickly, and has a 5-year survival rate of only 64 percent. However, there is a bright side—this disease is largely preventable. Avoiding high-risk behaviours is the key to prevention, and early detection is central to survival. Who is at Risk? The large majority of oral cancers occur in people over the age of 40. Men are twice as likely to be affected as women, and African American men are one of the groups with the highest risk for oral cancer.
High Risk Behaviours
Tobacco use — cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco — irritates and damages the cells within the oral cavity which increases the risk for oral cancer. In fact, the chance of a smoker developing oral cancer of the upper throat and mouth is 6 times more likely than a non-smoker. Smokeless tobacco users are at high risk for cancer of the cheek and inner-surface of the lips.
Heavy alcohol use also damages the cells inside the mouth and throat. Oral cancer is 6 times more common in people who consume alcohol than in non-drinkers. The threat of oral cancer more than doubles when someone drinks alcohol heavily and also smokes tobacco.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) has been recently linked with a subset of oral cancers. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus related to 90 percent of cervical cancers in women. However, it is now a causative factor in certain cases of oral cancer in younger or non-smoking patients. HPV related cancers are usually found in the back of the mouth and throat.
Prolonged and excessive sun exposure or any other source of ultra-violet radiation can cause skin cancers. Most cancers of the lips are the result of sun exposure.
Signs and Symptoms
There are various signs and symptoms of mouth or throat cancer. If you have any of the following symptoms for more than 2 weeks, we recommend going to a dentist or doctor as soon as possible.
. A lump, thick area in your mouth, or any sores
. A crusted area that bleeds easily or any patches (red or white) in your mouth
. Numbness, pain, or difficulty chewing or moving your jaw and tongue
A sensation of having something caught in your throat or difficulty swallowing
. Changes in the way your teeth come together
. A swelling that causes your denture to be uncomfortable
. Pain or an earache in one ear without any loss of hearing
Fortunately, oral cancer can be treated successfully when it is detected in its early stages. An oral cancer exam is painless, takes only a few minutes, and is usually always done by a dentist or dental hygienist at a routine dental appointment. Therefore, regular dental visits can improve your chances of catching oral cancer early enough for a positive outcome. But, don’t wait for a routine check-up, if you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms — go to a doctor or dentist right away.
Seventy-five percent of oral cancers are due to lifestyle choices with tobacco and alcohol use topping the list. Knowing your risks, the unsafe behaviours to avoid, and seeing a dentist regularly can help you prevent oral cancer. Here at Killiney Dental all of our assessments include an oral cancer screening as standard. So, please contact us today and make an appointment to discuss any issues relating to this disease. The old adage is somewhat true—prevention is better than cure, but early detection comes an easy second.
Dr Gerald O’Connor is the principal dentist and owner of Killiney Dental. Dr O’Connor graduated with an honours dental degree from University College Cork in 1998. He has since worked as a general dental surgeon in the UK and Ireland and has over 20 years experience in the dental field, with a particular interest in cosmetic and restorative dentistry. Dr O’Connor is an active member of the Irish Dental Association, sitting on its Quality Patient Safety Committee, and is a Irish Dental Council registered dentist.