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A pain in the mouth

Need another reason to stop smoking? At least 75 percent of people who are diagnosed with oral cancer are tobacco users. Oral cancer can appear on your lips, gums, tongue, inside your cheeks or on the roof or floor of your mouth. Take an active role in detecting oral cancer early by arming yourself with the facts.

Brush away oral cancer

Your dentist may spot signs of cancer during your annual or biannual exam, so be sure to keep your regularly scheduled checkups. The American Cancer Society recommends these tips to help prevent oral cancer:

  • Ditch your vices. People who use tobacco with alcohol are 100 times more likely to get oral cancer than those who don’t. Slash your risk by quitting smoking and limiting alcohol to one drink a day for women; two drinks a day for men.
  • Seek the shade. Lips are particularly sensitive to the sun’s rays, so wear lip balm with an SPF of at least 15. Stay in the shade or wear a hat, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Revamp your diet. Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and cut back on processed and red meats.
  • Monitor your mouth. Perform monthly self-exams by checking your lips, gums, the roof of your mouth, the inside of your cheeks and your tongue for any changes.

Warning signs

If you notice any changes, let your healthcare provider or dentist know right away. Look out for:

  • white or red patches in your mouth
  • a mouth sore that won’t heal
  • bleeding in your mouth
  • loose teeth
  • problems or pain with swallowing
  • a lump in your neck
  • pain in your ears

Conquering cancer

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist who treats oral cancer, such as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon or an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor). Depending on your general health, where the cancer began, the size of the cancer and whether it has spread, treatment may include surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

Your provider can describe your treatment choices and the results you should expect. Be sure it’s clear how treatment may affect swallowing and talking, and whether it will change the way you look. Working with your healthcare provider will help him or her develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.