Oncology specialists expect about 5,400 Canadians to be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer by the end of this year. About two-thirds of those patients are expected to survive. Those numbers could be much higher though, as most oral cancers are curable if detected early. That’s why we’re hoping to raise awareness and help as many mouths as possible in the Niagara region and across Canada.

1. FACT OR FICTION: Oral cancer always begins on the lips.
Oral cancer can start anywhere in the mouth including the lips, gums, roof, and floor as well as the tongue.

2. FACT OR FICTION: Oral cancer lesions are usually pain-free.
Most precancerous and cancerous lesions are asymptomatic, especially at the beginning. This is why many patients are unaware of lesions altogether. In later stages, the lesion/tumor involves neural structures, which starts to alert patients from the pain and discomfort.

3. FACT OR FICTION: Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma is best treated with surgical excision.
Surgical excision (the removal of tissue using a scalpel) is the preferred method for treating oral cancer. Chemotherapy or radiation is usually only used on patients who aren’t good surgical candidates, or where the surgical margins are positive for dysplasia, or tumor.

4. FACT OR FICTION: The biggest risk factor leading to oral cancer is HPV
Oral cancer is usually divided into two cases: anterior oral cavity, or oropharyngeal. HPV-associated cancer is usually oropharyngeal in origin. That means it usually involves the tonsils, or base of the tongue. The biggest risk factors for oral cancer are alcohol and/or tobacco use.

5. FACT OR FICTION: Sun exposure can lead to cancers in the mouth.
A history of significant sun exposure, or a previous skin cancer diagnosis does elevate your risk of oral cancers. UV exposure is A leading cause of cancer in the lip. Wearing Chapstick with an SPF, as well as a hat will help keep you protected.

6. FACT OR FICTION: An oncologist is the only one who can diagnose oral cancer
Oral cancer screenings have become a regular part of your routine dental appointment. Your dentist will inspect the inside of your mouth, looking for white or red patches or sores. While gloved, the dentist will feel the tissue of your mouth, ensuring there are no lumps or other abnormalities. The dentist usually examines your throat and neck as well. If you wear dentures, you’ll be asked to remove them, so the dentist can check the tissue underneath.

Additionally, every couple of appointments, your dentist may use an oral cancer screening light. This will make your healthy tissue appear dark, and cause any abnormal tissue to appear white.

It’s important to remember, not all spots or lumps a dentist will find are cancer, but if they are, catching their condition early means you’ll have more treatment options. That’s why keeping up your annual or semi-annual cleanings is important for everyone.

8. FACT OR FICTION: Prevention goes a long way.
While there is no sure-fire way to prevent oral cancer, there are actions you can take to lower your likelihood of experiencing it. Quitting tobacco and smoking related products is a great first step. Reducing the amount of alcohol you consume and the amount of time you spend in the sun will also reduce your risks of oral cancer.

Furthermore, regular screenings by your dentist drastically increases the likelihood of detecting oral cancer early, which can make a big difference.