Oral cancer is a difficult disease to survive, but it's also highly preventable: Three-quarters of oral cancers are the direct result of using tobacco. That's another good reason to stop smoking or to never start.
Early detection and treatment can make a big difference in the progression of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Finding lesions early before they become cancerous could save your life, and the most likely person to discover them is your dentist. See your dentist if you notice any unusual
lesions that don't go away. Don't wait till your regular checkup.
Oral cancer can develop in the lips, gums, and tongue, as well as the lining of the cheeks and the floor and roof of the mouth. Call your dentist or doctor right away if you notice any of the following:
White or red spots (or patches) on your tongue, gums, or any other tissues in your mouth
A sore or irritation in the mouth that bleeds easily and doesn't heal
Persistent tenderness, pain, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
A lump or thickening in the cheek
A thick, rough, or crusty spot, or a small area that looks like it's wearing away anywhere in the mouth
Difficulty chewing, swallowing, talking, or moving your jaw or tongue
A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down
A change in your voice that isn't due to a cold or allergies
For starters, don't use tobacco, it's to blame for 75 percent of all oral cancers. Whether you use cigarettes, pipes, cigars, "herbal" cigarettes, snuff, or chewing tobacco, you're at increased risk. Your risk is even higher if you add heavy drinking to the mix. Tobacco use combined with heavy alcohol consumption is the major risk factor for oral cancer.
Excessive sun exposure may also increase your chances of developing cancer of the lips. Protect yourself with a hat or stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., when the rays are the strongest, and always use a lip balm with a sun block of SPF 15 or more. You can also help protect yourself from cancer in general by eating 5 to 9
servings of fruits and vegetables a day. A diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables is linked to a higher overall risk of developing cancer.
Finally, one of the best things you can do to prevent oral cancer is to visit your dentist regularly. The dentist will examine your mouth for any suspicious skin changes. With the exception of ear, nose, and throat specialists,dentists are likely to do a better job assessing oral lesions than most doctors.
Oral cancer isn't common, but it is serious. Knowing the warning signs, having regular checkups, and limiting your risk increase your chance of avoiding it altogether.