The Facts About Oral Cancer
Most people are aware of the negative effects of smoking on their overall health. However, far fewer people are aware of the effects smoking can have on their mouth apart from the obvious teeth staining. Other less widely known effects of smoking on oral health include bad breath, dry mouth, increased risk of tooth decay, gum disease (periodontitis) and worst of all, oral cancer.
In Australia, 57% of oral cancers in men and 51% in women are caused by smoking. There were 518 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed in Victoria in 2010. And only 59% of those 518 people will live for another five years. Yes, this data is from Victoria, not Queensland, but it demonstrates just how serious the condition can be.
What Is Oral Cancer?
So, what’s classified as oral cancer? It’s basically cancer of the mouth, including the tongue, cheek, palate, floor of the mouth and lips. Unfortunately, smokers are 6 times MORE likely to develop oral cancer than non-smokers. And even when it appears that the cancer has been cured, about 37% of patients who persist in smoking after apparent cure of their cancer will develop secondary cancers of the mouth. This compares with only 6% of those who stop smoking after their initial cancer has been cured.
What To Look Out For
Oral cancers are often first spotted in its early stages by your dental team during a thorough mouth examination. (Find out about what is involved in a thorough dental examination here) If it’s diagnosed early, then the chances of a cure are good. However, because oral cancers often don’t cause any pain or discomfort, many people with oral cancer don’t get the treatment they need until it’s too late. This is why it’s so important to take a proactive approach and attend your regularly scheduled dental check up appointments so that you can get your mouth assessed for oral cancer each time.
Be aware of what is going on in your mouth. Examine yourself regularly. Ulcers that do not heal within 2 weeks, particularly if it’s NOT painful, any unusual red or white patches, lumps in your neck or jaw area, or persistent hoarseness are all reasons for asking your dentist to examine you. There is probably nothing seriously wrong but an early diagnosis could save your life.
How To Halve Your Risk
If you’re a smoker, you’ve probably heard these a thousand times. “You should quit” or “Why are you still smoking?” or “It’s bad for you. Haven’t you heard?”. The list goes on. If it’s not coming from your family, then it’s your friends, colleagues, doctor, pharmacist and maybe even your dentist.
Fact is, quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risk of oral cancer and the risks are halved five years after smoking cessation. Not to mention, all the other benefits you’ll enjoy from being smoke-free!
I also realise that quitting is not as simple as saying you’re going to quit. You’ll find that most smokers try a number of times before they finally quit for good, and that’s ok. That’s actually normal.
So, take it one step at a time and don’t beat yourself up. The longer you stay smoke-free, the easier it gets. Finding your own strategy for quitting is important as there is no one size fits all. Choose a quitting method you feel comfortable with that suits your lifestyle.
I understand that making the decision to quit can be difficult, because what lies ahead is most likely one of the hardest things you’ll ever face. So, don’t do it because someone else told you to. Do it because you want to. Do it for you.
Jasmine Ooi (BPharm)
Jasmine is a Pharmacist as well as the Co-Owner and Practice Manager at Method Dental. Her expertise in medical conditions, medications and health is invaluable to both Method Dental and our patients.