Oral Cancer- Not Just for “Old People”

Oral cancer is changing. Once it was a disease for older men, typically with a history of tobacco use. Today, oral cancer patients are younger, and many do not regularly smoke. More females are getting oral cancers than ever before. Oral cancer is no longer a “disease for old men” and is something we should all be aware of and looking for. Learn what you need to know to protect yourself from this devastating disease. 

Oral Cancer Facts

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 53,000 patients will be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2019. More than 10,000 men and women in the U.S. will die from this cancer this year. The average age for oral cancer is 62, but more than 25% of these cancers occur in patients younger than 55. 

Oral cancers can be found in almost any part of the mouth. Common locations for cancer include the lip, tongue, floor of the mouth, tonsils, and gums. Oral cancer is rarely painful, especially in the early stages. It is often caught after it has already spread, making treatment more difficult and lowering survival rates. 

Why Is Oral Cancer Affecting Younger Patients?

Tobacco use is a well-known risk factor for oral cancers. Alcohol use can compound the effects of tobacco, increasing the risk substantially in patients with a heavy drinking pattern. Tobacco and alcohol use remain large risk factors for oral cancers, but doctors are seeing oral cancers occur with increased frequency in patients with no history of tobacco use. 

Exposure to HPV, a common STD, is an emerging risk factor for oral cancers. Sexual habits have changed a lot in the last few decades, and with more than 200 HPV strains, most of us will contract some form of the virus in our lifetimes. Most strains of HPV are considered harmless, but some, including the very common HPV 16, are known to cause cancers. HPV 16 increases the rate of anal, oral, penile, and cervical cancers. Oral cancer is now the most common HPV-associated cancer, surpassing cervical cancer. 

How Do I Prevent Oral Cancer?

When it comes to cancer, prevention is always better than treatment. These simple lifestyle changes can reduce your risk for oral cancers. 

  • Avoid Using Tobacco- Tobacco is a major risk factor for many types of cancer, including oral cancers. Don’t use tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and snuff. If you already use tobacco, consider quitting. The longer you use tobacco, the greater your risks. Ceasing tobacco use at any age, reduces cancer risk. 
  • Moderate Alcohol Use- Heavy drinking increases the risk of oral cancer. If you do choose to drink, the American Cancer Society recommends limiting yourself to 2 daily drinks or less for men, and 1 drink for women. 
  • Vaccinate for HPV- Contracting HPV 16, a common form of the human papilloma virus, increases the risk of many cancers. It is also vaccine preventable. Ask your doctor about HPV vaccination. 
  • Protect Your Lips- The lips need sunscreen too. If you’ll be outdoors, use a lip protectant that contains SPF. 
  • Load Up on Fruits and Vegetables- Fruits and vegetables have shown a preventative effect in many cancers. Eat the rainbow and fill your plate with fruits and vegetables in abundance. 

The Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings

Oral cancer is most treatable if it is caught early, before it spreads to other parts of the body. Dentists are trained to look for signs of oral cancers, and pre-cancerous changes like erythroplasia and leukoplakia. Visit your dentist as recommended and ask for oral cancer screenings

Self-examinations are also valuable. We recommend that patients examine their mouth, neck, and tongue monthly, looking for changes. Contact Hill Country Oral Surgery in Austin, TX as soon as possible if you notice any of these signs of oral cancer:

  • Red or white patches in the mouth
  • Oral sores that don’t heal within 14 days
  • Lumps or thickening of oral skin and tissues
  • Sore throat or hoarseness
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Lumps or unfamiliar masses on the neck

Your mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems. Become familiar with it. Watch for changes and let us know if you see something. We’re here to help you diagnose problems and treat them properly, before they become more serious. Never ignore changes in your oral health. 

Oral cancers aren’t just a problem for old men. Contact us to schedule your oral cancer screening in Austin, TX.