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April is oral cancer awareness month

Updated: Mar 4, 2019

Did you know head and neck cancer is 1 of the 10 most common cancers in both men and women in Australia?

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month so I thought it fitting to talk about it since it is something that most people know very little about, but is actually more common than we think.

“Every day, at least three Australians are being diagnosed with oral cancer. Survival rates for oral cancer remain low despite advances in treatment and this can be attributed to late detection. Recognising the risk factors and signs of oral cancer is vital to better prognosis and outcomes,” says Chairman of the ADA’s Oral Health Committee, Dr Peter Alldritt.

What is it?

Oral cancers, otherwise known as head and neck cancers, happen when there is an uncontrolled reproduction of abnormal cells. These cells become cancers that can form on the throat, tongue and various places inside the mouth and neck.

As a non-smoker I thought I would be free and clear of the mouth cancer category, didn’t you?  Nope.

According to research (and also in our own personal experience) there is concern over the rates of which non-smokers are being diagnosed with oral cancers.

What do we do about it?

Upon early detection most oral cancers can be treated. It is when we disregard tell tale signs or neglect our mouths and do not attend regular check ups that we can run in to some trouble.

With rates of oral cancer on the rise it’s important to be in the know of what can cause this often terminal disease, how to prevent it, and how to detect it……

The 3 D’s ( I call it)

(Firstly, and possibly the most important)

 1. DETECTION – This is something that as dentists and hygienists we look out for every time you come and see us for your regular exam and cleaning. Dentists and hygienists are trained to examine the neck, gums, lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, throat and probe for any possible abnormalities. An oral cancer screening is standard in our exam and is conducted thoroughly at each visit. Any changes from visit to visit within our practice are noted and action taken if and when required. *As of 1st April 2016 the Australian Dental Association has recognised this as a specific procedure consisting of a comprehensive exam for the head and neck as well as for the mouth. We have been doing this all along but it is encouraging to know that this will become more routine and therefore detection will likely be at earlier stages.

2. DRINKING ALCOHOL, LESS OF IT – lower your intake of alcoholic beverages. Drink a glass of antioxidant rich red wine (glass, not bottle) as your beverage of choice. Drinking more water and natural fruit juices are both healthier alternatives.

3. DIET– Increase you consumption of  fruits and vegetables and avoid highly saturated fats.

What are some of the other risk factors for oral cancer?

According to the ADA (Australian Dental Association) Risk factors for oral cancer include:

  • Smoking – more than 80% of oral cancers in Australia occur in people who smoke

  • Extended exposure of lips to sun

  • Exposure to HPV.

The Australian Dental Association Inc. (ADA) has been strongly advocating a campaign aimed at educating people on what they can do with regards to lowering their risk of oral cancers.

“Early detection of oral cancer can save lives, so it’s important to know what you should be looking out for in your mouth. Ulcers or lumps in the mouth which do not heal within two weeks should be treated with suspicion. Smoking, alcohol, poor diet, sun exposure and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) all contribute to a person’s risk of presenting with oral cancer,” says Dr Alldritt.

As experienced clinicians and because of our diligence, we have actually been able to refer our own patients with suspicious sores or lumps in their mouths off to get a thorough diagnosis. The early detection of these irregularities in the mouth can lead to early treatment and therefore rates of survival increase dramatically.

Leukoplakia – white spots on the tongue

For more information check out the following links.


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