5 Ways to Prevent Oral Cancer
Is it possible to prevent oral cancer? In many cases, the answer is yes — if you have the right information. There isn’t always a clear reason why a patient develops oral cancer. However, in most situations there are one or more identifiable risk factors that point to the cause. Most are related to lifestyle habits and choices that are under your control. Here are the top five ways to lower your risk of developing oral tumors.
1. Stop smoking or using tobacco products immediately. Better yet, never start. It’s a lot easier to never use tobacco than to stop using it once you’ve started. It doesn’t take decades of tobacco use to put you at risk for oral cancer. Even teenagers and young adults who chew tobacco or dip snuff have been diagnosed with disfiguring tumors or fatal oral cancer that has spread to other organs.
2. Practice safe sex. HPV (human papilloma virus) has now become one of the leading causes of oral cancer. This virus is readily transmitted through unprotected oral sex. The HPV16 strain is rapidly becoming the most prevalent infection causing oral cancer. It is one of the HPV strains that is covered in the new HPV vaccine. Vaccination might help prevent oral cancer if you do not already have HPV (the role of HPV vaccination in preventing cancer is still being studied). Using condoms or dental dams during oral sex is the safest way to limit, but not eliminate, your risk of contracting HPV16.
3. Cut Back on Alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption over time and episodes of binge drinking can harm your oral tissues and your entire immune system. This damage puts you at greater risk for developing oral cancer. Limit alcohol consumption to occasional use and don’t drink too much at one sitting.
4. Avoid Sunburn. One way to prevent oral tumors from developing on your lips is to practice good sun protection. Stay away from prolonged sun exposure during the “peak” hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Use a lotion or lip balm that contains a UVA/UVB blocking sunscreen on your lips to protect against sun damage.
5. Take Care of Your Teeth and Gums.This includes practicing good oral hygiene every day at home with proper brushing and flossing. Have your teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist every six to 12 months as advised by your dentist. Address problems like gingivitis, periodontitis and cavities right away since bacterial infection and disease in your mouth increase your chances of oral cancer.
Oral Cancer Prevention through Early Detection
Identifying oral cancer in its very early stages isn’t technically “prevention.” However, it may keep you from suffering some of the worse complications of this disease including:
- Permanent facial disfigurement
- Loss of the ability to chew or swallow properly
- Loss of the ability to speak clearly
- Side effects of radiation and chemotherapy
- Multiple, extensive surgeries (including reconstructive surgery)
- Death from oral cancer that has spread to other organs
Perform a self exam of your lips, tongue, cheeks and gums every month looking for areas that are discolored (usually white or red). Check for lumps along your jaw line and on your neck. Be on the lookout for any mouth sores that don’t heal within 14 days. Contact your dentist or doctor right away if you have symptoms that might be oral cancer. Otherwise, see your dentist for a routine oral cancer screening when you go in to have your teeth cleaned.