April is Oral Cancer Awareness month. Here are a few facts that you should know about oral cancer for early detection and improved survival rates.

Knowing the Symptoms

Although oral cancer is not as common as lung and breast cancer in Singapore, it is important to treat it during the early stages. Thus, being aware of oral cancer symptoms enables early detection and treatment when the odds of survival are still very good. Some of the symptoms are:

– A sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal within two weeks.

– A lump in the cheek.

– A white or red patch on the gums, tongue or tonsils.

– A sore throat and difficulty in chewing or swallowing.

– Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue.

– Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth.

– Bleeding in your mouth and loose teeth.

Possible Causes of Oral Cancer

The leading causes of oral cancer are lifestyle-related.

  • Approximately 75-90% of oral cancer cases are caused by the high consumption of cigarettes and alcohol.
  • A person who has had a history of head and neck cancer may be at a higher risk to develop oral cancer.
  • Exposure to the sun may also be one of the causes of lip cancer.

Where to find help

  1. Get help from support groups! Since smoking and alcohol are the leading causes for oral cancer, support groups may be helpful to give you mental support and guidance during your fight to quit smoking or overcome alcohol addiction. The Singapore Cancer Society and Health Promotion Board have smoking cessation programs to support and counsel smokers below 18 years of age who wish to quit the habit. Of course, family and friends play an important part as well.
  2. Get help from the professionals! If you feel discomfort / abnormalities or notice one of the symptoms mentioned above, please visit your dentist or doctor for a check-up. Your dentist/doctor will perform a thorough examination and may take an x-ray, CT Scan and/or recommend a biopsy.  Treatment options can then be recommended based on the results.

When surgery and chemotherapy or radiation are recommended to treat the cancer, your dentist will do a thorough dental assessment prior undergoing the treatment to identify and address any outstanding dental issues such as gum disease and or tooth decay. This will assist in minimizing the risk of oral complications during and after treatment cancer treatment.

As there may also be side effects such as dry mouth syndrome (Xerostomia) due to medication, keeping one’s mouth and teeth clean and hydrated is important in reducing the risk of tooth decay and other oral problems.

Tips on dry mouth management include:

  •  Using non-alcohol based mouthwashes – however, do be aware that the chemicals in some mouthwashes may cause some discomfort for oral cancer patients post-treatment;
  • Using mouthwashes that contain natural enzymes to help to digest food that is trapped in the mouth;
  • Using fluoride gel on the teeth and moisturizing gel on the lips and gums;
  •  Drinking lots of water; and
  • Seeing your dentist regularly to ensure that your oral hygiene is well maintained.

Regular visits to your dentist will help in early oral cancer detection and save you much cost, pain and psychological trauma. In short, prevention is always better than cure.

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