Oral cancer is a national health priority, accounting for 30% of all cancers reported in India.
India has the second highest number of oral cancer cases in the world. Every year, 77,000 new cases are reported here, and 51,000 deaths result from oral cancer. Nearly 70% of all cases are reported in the advanced stages.
Due to the advanced stage, treatment becomes more difficult and the survival rates drop to 20%. This makes prevention and early detection of oral cancer very important for India.
This World Oral Health Day, we present 10 easy steps to prevent oral cancer and also to identify it in the early stages when treatment is likely to be much more successful.
What is oral cancer?
Oral cancer refers to any cancer of the mouth. Some areas that could be the site of the cancer are:
- floor of the mouth
- cheek lining
- gingiva (the gums)
- palate or in the anterior two thirds of tongue
How to prevent oral cancer?
Here are ten practical things you can do to prevent oral cancer, starting today!
1. Do not chew tobacco
The most important cause of oral cancer is also the most preventable cause i.e. tobacco. Chewing tobacco can cause several types of cancer, including mouth, esophageal, nasal, and oropharyngeal cancers etc.
All forms of tobacco including gutka, zarda, khaini, in leaf form etc are harmful. Apart from cancer, they cause several other diseases like stroke and heart diseases.
2. Do not chew betel nuts or paan
Betel nut chewing is the leading cause of oral cavity cancer in India. Avoid chewing betel nuts in raw or processed (pan masala) forms.
Paan is a preparation made by betel leaves with Areca nuts with or without tobacco. It has been found to increase the risk for oral cancers.
Chewing pan also causes damage to the liver, stomach, kidney and testis.
3. Quit smoking
Smoking has been observed as a common lifestyle habit in up to 80 to 90% of all oral cancer patients.
It is also seen that quitting smoking decreases the risk of oral cancer. The risk is reduced by up to 50% in people who quit smoking for more than 9 years.
If you are having trouble quitting, speak with a de-addiction therapist who will help you with practical tips and medication.
4. Avoid HPV infections of the mouth
Aside from lifestyle habits, sexual transmission is also a risk factor for oro-pharyngeal cancer. Unprotected oral sex, or exchange of reproductive fluids can lead to the transmission of the human papilomavirus (HPV), which in turn can manifest as oral cancer.
Although there are many adjunctive oral cancer screening devices and tests in the market, presently none of them can detect HPV-positive oral and oropharyngeal cancers early.
HPV is also the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancers. HPV-16 is the viral subtype that is responsible for most cases of oral cancer, and affects men and women equally.
5. Clean your teeth and between your teeth
It’s important to brush your teeth twice a day. Flossing is important to ensure that no food particles remain between the teeth.
The human papilloma virus (HPV) that can be present in the mouth and if unchecked, it can lead to oral cancer.
An unclean oral cavity also severely affects your immune system, and inhibits your body’s ability to fight off potential cancers.
6. Visit a dentist regularly
It is recommended that you get an orthodontist (dentist) to screen you for oral cancer every 6 months.
The early signs of mouth cancer are more likely to be noticed by a dentist during a regular visit. This could be a small lesion inside the mouth, an ulcer on the tongue or any abnormal growth in the mouth.
Regular visits to the dentist will improve your chances of spotting mouth cancer, while it is still in the early stages. At this point, treatment will be easier, less expensive and more successful, when compared with treatment in the later stages.
This is particularly important for those who chew tobacco, pan, smoke or consume alcohol regularly.
Even in the absence of such habits, visiting a dentist every 6 months is a great way to ensure good oral hygiene.
Sharp teeth have been found to increase risk for mouth cancer by way of causing repeated injuries to tissues of the mouth, a dental surgeon consultation is highly recommended if you have a sharp tooth.
7. Perform a self-examination at least once every month
Just like breast self-exams, oral self-exams are a great way to spot and eliminate threats early-on. Check the back and sides of your tongue thoroughly.
If you see (or feel) anything suspicious, such as lumps, bumps, tender areas or coloured (red/white/grey) patches, schedule an appointment with your dentist to get it checked immediately.
8. Choose foods that prevent cancer
A diet containing sufficient fresh vegetables and fruits can lower your risk of all types of cancers.
Eat a lot of beans, berries, leafy and fibrous vegetables (such as cabbage and broccoli), flax seeds, garlic, grapes, green tea, soy and tomatoes for their antioxidant properties and heightened roles in preventing cancer.
Avoid processed foods, foods high in salt content like chips, and foods high in sugar content like cold drinks. These provide empty calories that increase your energy levels temporarily but do not provide nutrition to the body.
9. Limit sun (UltraViolet) exposure
You may already be aware that it is important to wear sunscreen when you step outdoors. It protects our skin from UV radiation and from skin cancer. Many who regularly use sunscreen, forget to protect their lips.
Repeated UV exposure increases the risk of cancer on the lips, especially the lower lip. Using UV-A/B-blocking sun-protection for your lips when you step outside, may help prevent lip cancer.
10. Exercise regularly
Obesity increases your risk for all types of cancer. To keep your weight in check, a balanced diet and an active lifestyle is important.
30 mins of exercise a day is highly recommended. This could include brisk walking, sports, aerobic exercises, swimming, muscle training etc.
An active lifestyle helps to boost the immune system, and reduces your risk of developing cancer.
If you find it difficult to stick to an exercise routine, consider joining a club or finding a friend or family member who can exercise with you. This might help you be more regular with our workouts.
There are several online fitness clubs and classes for activities like, dance, aerobics and yoga. Some of these are also free. You can try some of these to see which ones you enjoy the most.
Apart from the above listed causes, occupational hazards like long term exposure to radiation or harmful chemicals can also lead to different forms of cancer. Check your workplace and home to ensure minimum exposure to such carcinogens (cancer causing substances).
As the saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’. By following the above given practical steps, you will drastically cut down your risk of developing advanced stage oral cancer.