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Myths and Facts about Oral Cancer

Early diagnosis, as well as treatment, of mouth cancer, is critical for recovery and better survival rates. However, a few misconceptions about mouth cancer doing the rounds make timely detection virtually impossible.

Mouth cancer is shorthand for malignancies developing on lips, gums, throat, tongue, soft and hard palate, cheeks, and beneath the tongue. It’s deadly if not identified and treated early.

The WHO’s recent study reported 657,000 throat and oral cavity cancer cases and over 330,000 deaths globally. The numbers are growing phenomenally across South Asia down to the risk factor exposures. India’s mouth cancer burden would be 99,495 by the end of 2020. That would be one-fourth of the total deaths, globally, making it a big community health concern in India.

Awareness is the best response to the growing incidence rates. An informed person is likely to avoid risk factors, get diagnosed, and seek treatment for mouth cancer early. With myths and misconceptions on mouth cancer doing the rounds, it’s time to set them straight, one at a time.

Myth 1: Identifying the warning signs is easy.

Fact: Cancers of lips, cheeks and tongue can be easily spotted. But cancers occurring beneath the tongue, on the oral cavity, throat and lymph nodes might go unnoticed for too long. Note that, the cancers in these hard-to-notice areas drive the mortality and morbidity rates, globally.

It’s hard for you to detect them, but for your dentist, it’s all in a day’s work. That’s why regular visits to dentists are always recommended. Also, don’t ignore the warning signs, including hoarseness, permanent lumps, swallowing issues, bleeding due to unidentified causes and more. Get yourself screened for mouth cancer once the warning signs surface.

Myth 2: Oral cancer screening is only for high-risk patients.

Fact: Regular screening helps diagnose the condition early when mouth cancer treatment is most effective. It’s a lifesaver for all. Screening is a non-invasive routine, wherein the dentist scans your mouth, throat, tongue, oral cavities and other areas for warning signs.

The dentist would look for lumps that refuse to disappear, patches on the tongue and change in your denture’s fitting. He/she is more likely to detect painless malignant lesions that otherwise may go undetected. If identified, you’ll be recommended for further testing to establish the cause.

Myth 3: The cases are limited to smokers and tobacco users only.?

Fact: No one is immune to it, regardless of age, health status or ethnicity. While smokers and tobacco users run a higher risk of mouth cancer, the risk factors are aplenty. This includes, but, not limited to alcohol, struggling immune system, HPV infections, betel quid and genetics.

The mouth cancer incidence rates are higher among men, especially those aged 50 or over. Being an ageing man puts you at a greater risk. Plus, a good percentage of mouth cancers are secondary, i.e. cancers initiating in some other body part and metastasizing at a specific location in the mouth.

Myth 4: Mouth cancer cannot be avoided despite the precautions.

Fact: Mouth cancer prevention is all about avoiding risk factors. You cannot rule out chances of mouth cancer but can restrict them significantly. Avoid smoking, tobacco use and chewing betel quid, the three prime risk factors in the Indian subcontinent. Also, drink in moderation, if at all.

Prolonged sun exposure is also linked to oral malignancies. Limiting sun exposure is, thus, recommended. As HPV infections often lead to cancers in the mouth, practising safe sex and getting inoculated for HPV is advisable. Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet is an effective way to boost your immune system and ward off oral malignancies.

Myth 5: If it’s hereditary, then I am bound to get it.

Fact: Few conditions run in the family, mouth cancer included. If someone in your family has it, you run a higher risk of getting it. However, you are not bound to get it. Less exposure to risk factors can bring down your chances of ending up with mouth cancers. Regular screening is crucial for people with a family history, paving way for early mouth cancer treatment.

Myth 6: Youngsters aren’t exposed to mouth cancer.

Fact: Mouth cancer shows a predilection for people over 50. The reason being, the condition takes time to develop and manifest itself. However, with studies linking mouth cancers to HPV, the incidence rates are shooting through the roof among young people. HPV is an abbreviation for Human Papilloma Virus, a sexually transmitted disease characterized by genital warts.

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