While breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes receive regular attention, oral diseases remain a largely overlooked topic that can lead to devastating consequences. Oral cancer strikes approximately 34,360 Americans annually, with more than 25% of these cases being fatal. The mouth is literally the first place many harmful substances contact the body, making the gums, tongue and cheeks particularly vulnerable to outside hazards. In addition, the mouth is comprised of many different parts, including the lips, cheeks, tongue and gums. That means oral cancer is a condition that can originate in several locations through several different symptoms. Awareness of these symptoms is the first step to preventing this particularly devastating form of cancer.
Among the easiest and most effective methods of preventing this disease is through limiting contact with potential cancer hazards, including extreme sun exposure and carcinogenic chemicals, like asbestos. Frequently introduced into the body through the inhalation of tiny asbestos particles, mesothelioma of the stomach lining can originate through the oral consumption of this material. While skin cancer is a relatively easy condition to discover, mesothelioma, the cancer linked to asbestos contact, is difficult to treat for many reasons. Mesothelioma symptoms typically fail to appear until 20 to 50 years after exposure, often mimicking other conditions when they do manifest. Therefore, this condition is rarely identified in its early stages, limiting treatment options and making it especially important individuals monitor which chemicals they introduce into their systems orally.
Oral hygiene plays another large part in the prevention of oral cancer. Neglecting basic cleansing habits, such as regular flossing and brushing, can lead to the buildup of plaque and bacteria that can lead to oral irritation and eventual cancer. Failing to schedule regular dental cleanings and cancer screenings also poses a threat because warning signs like sores that fail to heal and mouth discoloration might be ignored. Dental professionals can help identify benign cell growths, pre-cancerous symptoms and cancerous tumors, deciding on the best treatment option for the patient before the cancer metastasizes.
Finally, specific lifestyle habits can increase one’s risk of developing this disease. Alcohol and tobacco use are common habits that remain the most frequent causes of oral cancer. Continual consumption of these chemicals can irritate any one of the numerous fleshy parts that make up a mouth. Indeed, individuals at the highest risk for developing oral cancer are over the age of 40, heavy drinkers, smokers or smokeless tobacco users. There is also evidence linking the exposure of heat from cigars and pipes to lip cancer. Poor nutrition, ill-fitting dentures and continual mouth contact with rough surfaces are other preventable factors that can also lead to oral cancer.
Like any disease, prevention remains the best option regarding treatment. For consumers of alcohol and tobacco products especially, a professional oral cancer screening should be scheduled annually, supplemented by monthly self-exams. Although successful treatment of this particular form of cancer is relatively frequent and non-invasive if caught early, the removal of oral tumors that were not quickly identified can lead to drastic changes and disfigurement. Emotional and physical consequences of oral cancer make the subsequent recovery and coping difficult for patients. Particularly destructive cases of oral cancer can lead to the disruption of virtually every aspect of a patient’s life, including relationships, employment and self image. Patients recovering from particularly involved surgeries might need later therapy to assist in speech, chewing foods and diminished salivary functioning. While largely overlooked as a threat, oral cancer deserves greater attention because of its high rate of occurrence, mortality and preventability.
Author - Alex White