Oral cancer is serious and can be life-threatening if not caught early. It begins when the healthy cells in the mouth mutate and become cancer cells. The cancer cells can then grow and destroy nearby tissues and may spread to other parts of the body. While oral cancer can happen to anyone at any age, men are at a higher risk than women, especially after the age of 45.
In 2017, there were 4,700 Canadians diagnosed with oral cancer and 1,250 died from it. No one wants to receive a cancer diagnosis, and there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
How to decrease your risk of oral cancer:
Avoid tobacco products- Most oral cancers are related to tobacco use. All tobacco products can increase your risk, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars and pipes. Avoiding tobacco products and limiting your exposure to second-hand smoke is one of the best things you can do for your health.
Consume alcohol in moderation- Heavy drinking is linked to an increased risk of oral cancer. The risk is even higher if you are using both alcohol and tobacco products.
Wear SPF (sun protection factor) on your lips- This is especially important for fair-skinned people who spend a lot of time in the sun.
Eat a healthy diet- Make sure to get enough fruit and vegetables in your diet. Studies have shown that a poor diet increases your risk of oral cancer.
Maintain good oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly- Studies have found there is an increased risk of oral cancer in those with poor oral hygiene. Regular dental visits will improve your oral health and give your dental professionals the opportunity to check for signs of oral cancer.
Avoid chronic irritation to the oral tissues- If you wear dentures, make sure that they fit well and don’t rub against or irritate your tissues. Avoid constant chewing on the insides of your cheeks, lips or sides of your tongue. Try not to have drinks that are very hot and could burn your mouth and throat. These are all considered possible risk factors for developing oral cancer.
Some people may have risk factors that they can’t avoid such as a family history of squamous cell carcinoma or having the auto-immune condition called oral lichen planus. Regularly inspecting your mouth at home for changes in your tissues and routine dental visits can help ensure early detection. Oral cancer is most treatable when caught early.