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Everything You Need To Know (And Probably Don’t) About Oral Cancer

Fact. Oral cancer is on the rise and according to the BC Cancer Agency, in 2011 an estimated 531 people in British Columbia alone were diagnosed with some form of oral cancer.. 176 of those people died, and that number is rising year after year.

In this blog, 123 Dentist Member Clinics want to help you understand oral cancer and what you can do about it, to make sure you live a long and healthy life. While oral cancer diagnoses are on the rise, it is one of the most treatable cancers, meaning that for those who catch it early, it is highly survivable.

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What is Oral Cancer?

Before we go any further, let’s talk about what oral cancer really is. Oral cancer is a form of head or neck cancer and refers to tumours found inside the oral cavity. It can affect your jaw, gums, tongue and lips.

Oral Cancer will kill over 8,000 people in the US this year, or 1 person every minute of every day. It’s also one of the most common cancers to contract and has been gaining increasing attention in the world wide community. Here in Canada, most cases of oral cancer are treatable if found early.

Celebrities who have suffered from oral cancer include Roger Ebert, Aaron Spelling, Michael Douglas and Rod Stewart. Ebert and Spelling both lost their battle to oral cancer, but Michael Douglas and Rod Stewart are survivors. Perhaps the most famous faces associated with oral cancer are Sigmund Freud and Humphrey Bogart, both of whom lost their battles before early detection and modern dentistry would have given them a fighting chance.


What causes Oral Cancer?

Around 75% of all oral cancer is caused by avoidable human behaviour like smoking tobacco and alcohol consumption. The condition is also genetic, but oral health, including regular flossing and brushing with visits to your local 123 Dentist member clinic can help lower your risk. Cancer cells can become active when your immune system is weakened; so don’t allow bacteria and viruses to take hold in your oral cavity.


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HPV and Oral Cancer

Oral Cancer, as with several other types of cancer, have been linked to the HPV-16 virus, or Human Papillomavirus.  HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease and most carriers are unaware they are infected. Males transfer the virus to females through sex and while it is statistically less harmful to men, it has been shown to raise the risk of cancer  in women.

We recommend vaccinating against HPV and practicing safe sex to avoid HPV. Men can look for genital warts as a symptom of HPV, and should always use protection to avoid transferring the virus, particularly with women who have not been vaccinated. For more information on HPV, speak to your family doctor.

If you are already a carrier of HPV, please remember it is not always a sign of cancer, but does make you more susceptible to certain cancers like cervical (most common in women) and oropharyngeal (more common for men). Most doctors recommend annual cancer screenings for carriers of HPV, because early detection is key to combatting any cancer, including oral cancer.


How to Avoid Oral Cancer

Avoid damaging behaviour like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Practice excellent oral hygiene and visit your dentist every 6 months for a routine cleaning. Oral cancer can sometimes be caused on lips by prolonged exposure to the sun, so be sure to pack that UV protective lip balm next time you sunbathe or go for a tan. Flossing is the very important because it removes bacteria that can cause other dental problems, weakening your immune system and making it easier for cancer cells to grow.

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What to do if you think you have Oral Cancer?

Oral Cancer often manifests much the same way other cancers do, with a lump that feels abnormal. In many cases it appears like a sore that does not heal or fade. If you have such a sore, you should visit your local 123 Dentist member clinic as soon as possible. Almost all of our clinics provide cancer screenings.

Because Oral Cancer is confined to the oral cavity, your 123 Dentist is your first line of defence to diagnose and treat it. Your dentist can check your mouth for early signs of a tumour with a thorough exam. Your 123 dentist will have to do a biopsy before they can make a diagnoses. They will send a sample of your tissue to a lab to determine if it is cancer. Once a dentist receives the lab results confirming oral cancer, they can start to treat the cancer before it progresses any further.

The VELscope Laser shines a blue light inside your mouth so the dentist can get a closer look…


VELscope Oral Cancer Screenings

A new technology, called VELscope, allows dentists to use a blue laser to identify signs of cancer more thoroughly. The technology was created with support by the BC Cancer Agency and is used around the world for early oral cancer detection. Almost all 123 Dentist Member Clinics use VELscope and the exam only takes a five minutes.

First a dentist will feel around your mouth for any abnormal lumps or sores. Then a white light is used to inspect your mouth for any obvious abnormalities. Finally, a blue laser is used inside your mouth to highlight tissue that could be cancerous. It is pain free and has no side effects. You can ask your local 123 Dentist about VELscope or learn more here.

Oral Cancer has a 80-90% survivability rate if it is discovered early on. VELscope saves lives and only takes a few minutes in addition to your normal appointment. So talk to your dentist today!

How to treat Oral Cancer

If you find yourself diagnosed with oral cancer, your dentist and doctor will work with you to discuss your options, specific to your needs and the progression of the cancer. Once again, we cannot stress the importance of early detection enough.

In most cases, treatments will involve a surgery to remove the tumour while it is small. In advanced cases, this can lead to severe quality of life changes and removal of the tongue, jaw and cheek can remove a patient’s ability to speak, eat normally or even smile. In other cases, chemotherapy, combined with other treatments is also a possibility.

When detected early by your dentist, an oral cancer diagnoses can have a minimal impact on your life, but because so many people avoid regular visits to the dentist, they are putting themselves at increased risk.

123 Dentist and Free Oral Cancer Screenings

For two years, 123 Dentist Member Clinics have participated in a program to raise money for oral cancer awareness by offering free VELscope Oral Cancer Screenings at select clinics by donation. Patients were able to experience the quick and painless service and support a good cause. 123 Dentist even matched donations. See the results in this video:

Due to the rise of HPV and other possible environmental factors, oral cancer is on the rise and is affecting younger men and women than ever before. Even for non-smokers, the risk is increasing. Dentists and early stage detection make oral cancer a compatible, treatable disease, but only if you practice good dental hygiene. Visit a 123 Dentist Member Clinic today and tell your friends and family to get their annual VELscope Cancer Screening the next time they visit their dentists.

Find your nearest 123 Dentist Member Clinic with VELscope Exams here.