6 Myths and Facts about Oral Cancer

6 Myths and Facts about Oral Cancer

Feb 01, 2023

Oral cancer is cancer that occurs inside the mouth or oral cavity. It can occur on the gums, roof, and floor of the mouth, lips, sinuses, tongue, throat, and inner linings of the cheeks. Research suggests that about 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer annually.  Like other cancers, oral cancer is deadly if not diagnosed and treated early. Regular screenings with your dentist or doctor can help detect and treat oral cancer early.

Like most health conditions, there are many myths and misconceptions about oral cancer. This article looks at the six most common myths about oral cancer and their facts.

Myth 1: Oral cancer is rare

One common myth about oral cancer is that it’s rare. The fact is that oral cancer is relatively common. Each year, more than 500000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with oral and oropharyngeal cancer. Factors that can increase your risk include:

  • Tobacco use like cigars, cigarettes, pipes, and chewing tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol consumption. The risk is higher if you combine alcohol and tobacco use.
  • A weakened immune system
  • HPV (Human papillomavirus) is a sexually transmitted virus.
  • Excessive sun exposure can cause lip cancer.

Myth 2: Young people don’t have to worry about oral cancer

Although your cancer risk increases with age, especially after 50, it doesn’t mean that young people can’t get it. Factors like human papillomavirus (HPV), excessive sun exposure, and heavy alcohol and tobacco use can increase the risk of young people developing oral cancer.

Myths 3: Only smokers get oral cancer

While smoking increases your risk of oral cancer, it doesn’t mean you can’t get the disease if you don’t smoke. Similarly, not all people who smoke get oral cancer or any cancer at all. The fact is that tobacco and nicotine only increase your risk of oral cancer. The risk is even worse if you combine smoking and heavy alcohol consumption. Besides smoking, other factors like HPV and genetics can increase your risk of oral cancer even if you don’t smoke.

Myth 4: There’s nothing that you can do to protect yourself from oral cancer

While the specific cause of oral cancer can be challenging to establish, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • Quit tobacco use
  • Avoid heavy alcohol consumption
  • Avoid highly processed foods. Eat healthier foods like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, fish, nuts, fresh fruits, and olive oil.
  • Practice safe sex to prevent the risk of HPV – a cancer-linked virus
  • Limit sun exposure and apply lip balm with SPF to avoid lip cancer

Myth 5: Only high-risk individuals are screened for oral cancer

The fact is that oral cancer screening should be a part of your regular dental exams, whether or not you’re at a high risk of developing the disease. During the exam, the dentist examines your mouth, tongue, throat, lymph nodes, inside cheeks, lips, and neck for early signs of oral cancer like abnormal lumps, sores, and discoloration. Fortunately, the exam is usually quick and non-invasive. If the dentist finds any suspicious signs, they may recommend additional exams like a biopsy to confirm the results.

Doctors and dentists recommend that adults have at least one oral screening yearly. These routine screenings facilitate early diagnosis of oral cancer when treatment is more likely to be more successful, less invasive, and less costly. Oral cancer can develop over a couple of years. Without routine screening, you might know you have the disease until it’s too late. Oral cancer might be hard to reverse at late stages and can even lead to death.

Myth 6: It’s easy to spot oral cancer signs and symptoms

Like many diseases, oral cancer can develop over several years without showing significant symptoms. Similarly, it can develop in areas like the tonsils, the base of the tongue, and the lymph nodes, making it hard to notice.

Unlike you, your dentist can notice early symptoms of early cancer. Routine screenings allow for early diagnosis and treatment, preventing the disease from spreading excessively. Visit our dental office near you if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Persistent sores on the neck, face, or mouth that don’t heal quickly
  • Unexplained oral bleeding
  • Unexplained numbness, pain, loss of feeling, or tenderness in the neck, mouth, or face
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • A soreness or feeling of something stuck at the back of the throat
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving the tongue or jaw
  • Jaw pain or swelling
  • Chronic sore throat, hoarseness, or change in voice
  • A change in the way your denture or teeth fit together
  • White or reddish patch on the inside of your mouth

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Are you reeady to book your next oral cancer screening? Contact Greenlake Dental to speak with our Greenlake dentist.

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