Oral cancer can affect all the soft tissues in your mouth, including your lips, cheeks, teeth, gums and tongue, as well as the bottom and roof of your mouth. Oropharyngeal cancer (throat cancer) also affects the back of your tongue, the roof of your mouth and your tonsils as well as your throat. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 5,400 Canadians were diagnosed with oral cancer in 2020. Roughly 1,500 people died from oral cancer in 2020.

What are the symptoms and risk factors for oral cancer?

Because the symptoms of potential oral cancer can resemble so many other conditions that affect your mouth, lips and throat, attending regular dental checkups with a dentist in Shawnessy is essential to undergo regular oral cancer screenings. Some common symptoms associated with oral cancer include:

The presence of any of these symptoms, alone, does not mean that you have oral cancer but does justify further investigation by a dentist near you and by your family doctor and specialists — especially if you have any of the significant risk factors for oral cancer. The symptoms to be on the lookout for include:

  • A heal or lump in your mouth that persists and doesn’t go away
  • A lump in your neck
  • Unexplained chronic pain in your mouth
  • Unexplained pain in your teeth or jaw
  • Loose teeth
  • White or red patchiness in your mouth or throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chronic bad breath despite brushing, flossing and using mouthwash

At every dental checkup and at dental cleanings near you, your dentist familiar with your medical history will screen you for oral cancer by looking for those symptoms and ruling out any dental and oral hygiene-related causes. At dental checkups and dental cleanings near you, your dentist and their staff may also use a VELscope oral cancer screening device to scan your mouth for indications of abnormal cells that may be related to oral cancer. Screening for oral cancer — any kind of cancer for that matter — is essential. Early detection of oral cancer cells in or around your mouth is essential to effective treatment and recovery. How essential?

When oral cancer is discovered before it has spread beyond your mouth, the five-year survival rate for oral cancers is, 93, 78 and 75% for lip cancer, tongue cancer and cancer on the floor of your mouth, respectively. Those five-year survival rates are much lower — 48%, 63%, and 38%, respectively — if oral cancer is not detected until it has spread beyond the floor of your mouth, your lips, or your tongue.

Research into the specific causes of oral cancer continues. Several risk factors that increase the likelihood that you will develop oral cancer have been identified, though. The include:

  • Smoking and chewing tobacco
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • A family history of oral cancer
  • The human papillomavirus
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight and other UV radiation (cancer affecting the lips specifically)

If you have experienced any troubling oral symptoms and have any of the risk factors for oral cancer, get in touch with a doctor or dentist immediately and ask to be screened for oral cancer as soon as possible. If you do not have a regular family dentist, we encourage you to reach out to a dentist near you as soon as possible. Seeing a dentist who knows you and your medical history twice a year is not just the key to your oral health. A commitment to dental hygiene in Shawnessy may also save your life.