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The “C” Word

This month as part of breast cancer awareness month, our blog topic is all about the scary "C" word that everyone dreads hearing at any medical exam: Cancer.

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Did you know that Oral Cancer affected 4700 Canadians last year? Of these 4700 Canadians diagnosed, there were 1000 deaths. That is a very step and significant death rate we are facing in Canada. This rate is high not only because Oral Cancer is hard to detect but because it is usually found in the later stages. Which means we need to be diligent in our exams and try to catch things in the earlier stages, instead of the late stages to help reduce the risk of mortality.

Did you know that the risk factor for men is twice that of a women’s or that they are 3 times more likely to be affected in Canada?

So what is Oral Cancer?

Sometimes cells can change and no longer grow or function normally. These changes can be non-cancerous (benign), or they can be pre-cancerous conditions. This means that the abnormal cells are not yet cancer, but there is a chance they could become cancer if not treated. The most common pre-cancerous conditions are leukoplakia and erythroplakia, red and white lesions. Or they can change and start to grow and destroy the cells around them; this would be considered a cancerous change.

What are the risk factors for Oral Cancer?

Tobacco: The largest risk factor.
All forms of tobacco: cigarettes, chews, pipes, bidis, and smokeless tobacco increase the risk for Oral Cancer. The longer and more frequently you use a tobacco product, the greater the risk. This risk is also increased when combined with using smokeless tobacco, drinking alcohol or both.

Alcohol: also one of the main risk factors for Oral Cancer.
Drinkers are 6 times more likely to get Oral Cancers than non-drinkers. The more you consume, the greater the risk. As mentioned above, the use of alcohol and tobacco products together increases the risk of developing Oral Cancer more than either one by itself. I will also note that over 25% of all Oral Cancers occur in those who do not smoke and only drink occasionally.

HPV: (short for Human Papillomavirus) is a group of different types of related viruses.
Many types are spread through sexual contact, including oral sex. As well as infecting sexual organs, it can also infect the mouth and throat. HPV- 16 and 18 both increase the risk of Oral Cancer and is likely the cause when neither tobacco nor alcohol use are factors. HPV is most prevalent in young adults- especially teenage girls.

Previous Cancer: If you’ve previously had Oral Cancer.
You are at a higher risk to developing cancer again, especially if risk factors such as tobacco or alcohol use have not been reduced. Also having cancer of the esophagus, larynx, lung or cervix will also increase your risk of Oral Cancer.

Family history: If you have a family history of Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC).
Parent, sibling or child of someone who has had SCC of the head or neck, are also at a higher risk.

If after looking at the risks you notice you have quite a few risk factors then look at trying to reduce some that are within your control.

What does it look like when you have Oral Cancer?

Oral Cancer will often cause symptoms in its early stages, but other dental and health conditions can cause similar problems so don't be alarmed if you read this list and think "I have these and might have cancer."

A common first symptom is an ulcer or sore in the mouth or on the lip that doesn't heal after 2 weeks. Another common symptom is pain that also doesn't go away. Other symptoms include: lump or growth, thickening of the cheek, bleeding, loose teeth (without a history of gum disease), dentures that no longer fit properly, swollen saliva glands, swollen lymph nodes on the neck, earache that won't go away, difficulty swallowing and tingling or loss of sensation of lip or tongue.

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How to detect Oral Cancer?

Cancer screening should be done on an annual basis at your doctor’s office, and you should personally be checking your mouth on a monthly basis as well, especially if you have any of the above mentioned risk factors. Places that are the highest risk are the tongue and floor of the mouth. Make sure to check the sides, bottom and top of the tongue. If you notice anything that looks irregular bring it to the attention of your dentist. Changes in the mouth can manifest in a couple different ways.

You can have a change in texture. If you notice an area with your tongue or finger that feels different than the other tissue this can also signify a change in cell make up. Also an area may feel raised or a bump may form.

If you have any questions or after doing an exam yourself, and aren't sure about something that you see, please book an appointment and we would be happy to see you here at Urban Oasis Dental Studio and address any concerns you may have. The sooner Oral Cancer is caught the better the outcome will be.

There is a really great video made my some dental hygiene students that show you the full oral exam that you can do and it takes under 5 minute to complete.

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