Of all the cancers diagnosed in Australia each year, about 6.5 per cent are intraoral carcinoma cases. It can affect the lips, tongue, cheeks and the soft palate of your mouth.
Symptoms of oral cancer include loose teeth, changes in speech, bleeding or numbness in the mouth, unexpected weight loss, a lump in the neck, swollen or sore lips, difficulty swallowing or red or white patches on the gums, tongue and mouth.
Here are seven ways you can reduce your risk of developing oral cancer.
Stay out of the sun
The correlation between sun exposure and skin cancer is well known across Australia and New Zealand, where the ozone layer is thinnest. But while we may try to avoid going out in the middle of the day when the UV is the strongest, wear hats, sunglasses and douse ourselves in sunscreen, it’s easy for forget that our lips are also at risk of sun damage and related cancers. Regularly reapply a lip balm that contains SPF protection, my personal favourite is Dermal Lip Balm SPF 50+.
Eat your fruit and vegies
Nutritional deficiencies can increase your risk of developing oral cancer. Eating vitamins and antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables can help to boost your immune system, lowering this risk. According to WebMD, eating brussels sprouts, squash and carrots are particularly good for your oral health, but you should be eating at least five serves of diverse vegetables a day. When you’re cooking your vegetables, keep in mind that some can be overcooked, and have their nutritional value depleted. While it’s best to eat some vegetables raw, baking or steaming the others, to avoid harmful oil used in frying.
Flossing each night and brushing your teeth twice a day can help to maintain oral hygiene and even lower your risk of human papillomavirus (HPV). One study found that people with poor oral hygiene were at the greatest risk of developing oral cancer.
Pay the dentist a visit
Dentists don’t just inspect your teeth, they also look at your gums, tongue and the inside of your mouth, looking for any signs of abnormal or dangerous growths. The more frequently you see your dentist, the earlier they can detect any problems.
Between visits to the dentist, keep an eye on your own mouth. Use a mirror to look for any discolouring, ulcers or red and white areas that remain for more than three weeks. If you find anything unusual, consult your dentist.
Drink less alcohol
While this is health advice few people want to hear, people who have three to four drinks a day are twice as likely to develop oral cancer. These odds intensify if you drink more than four standards a day, or if you also smoke. Approximately 31 per cent of mouth cancers in Australia are caused by excess drinking.
Avoid contracting HPV
It’s estimated that up to 80 per cent of Australians will have HPV at some stage in their lives, and that most people don’t even realise they have it. HPV belongs to a group of common viruses that can live dormant for long periods of time, but is associated with increased risk of a number of cancers. Practising safe sex at every age and ensuring that you have been vaccinated can help you to lower your risk of contracting HPV.
In Australia, 59 per cent of mouth cancers are caused by smoking. It doesn’t matter how long you have smoked for, quitting now can drastically improve your health and help to lower your risk of a wide range of problems including oral cancer. Even if you’ve already been diagnosed with cancer, giving up smoking will help make treatment more effective and reduce recovery time.
Are you concerned about developing mouth cancer? Will you be following any of these steps to lower your risk?
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Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.