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Oral Cancer

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer refers to any cancerous growth found in the mouth, lip, cheek, tongue, or salivary glands. The throat (or pharynx) is a common secondary site for cancerous growth, though not in the oral cavity, specifically.

Oral cancer affects more than 3,000 Canadians annually, and is the cause of death of more than 1000 Canadians each year. Oral cancer is most likely to occur in adults over the age of 40, with men being affected two times more often than women. The differences between men and women have been narrowed over the years.

Oral cancer is one of the easiest cancers to detect, with early signs often seen and felt by the individual. However, a biopsy is the only way to diagnose oral cancer. Early detection and immediate treatment can result in a cure.

What factors can increase my risk of Oral Cancer?

  • Smoking, and/or other tobacco use.
  • Alcohol consumption.
  • Sun exposure of the lips.
  • Certain types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV-related oral cancers tend to be found in younger individuals, as opposed to tobacco related oral cancers)
  • Diet (lack of fresh fruits and vegetables)

Oral cancer self evaluation

What should I look for?

  • Mouth ulcers that do not heal.
  • Sores or wart-like patches on lip.
  • Persistent sore throat.
  • Sores under dentures.
  • Lump in the tongue, lip, or neck.
  • Difficulty in chewing, swallowing or speaking.
  • Numbness in any area of the mouth.
  • Dark red or white patches in the mouth.

If any of these symptoms are present and persist for more than two weeks, visit your health care provider immediately.

What can I do to prevent Oral Cancer?

  • Check your mouth, lips, tongue and cheeks regularly.
  • Have regular dental check-ups.
  • Avoid using tobacco products.
  • Limit use of alcohol.
  • Wear sun protection on your lips when spending time outdoors.
  • Eat a healthy diet including fresh fruit and leafy green vegetables; those high in vitamins A, C, and E are best.