Currently, cancer is documented as one of the most common non-communicable diseases in most developing countries, Uganda inclusive. Oral cancer is a condition that affects the lips, inside the mouth, the back of the throat, tonsils or salivary glands. It occurs more frequently in men than women and it usually strikes people above 40 years. Smoking in combination with heavy alcohol use is a key risk factor.
Oral cancer is on the rise and it is costly to treat. If oral cancer is not detected early, it can be fatal.Symptoms of oral cancer
Since it is difficult for an individual to spot the warning signs of oral cancer, regular checkups with your dentist or physician are important. Your dentist is trained to detect the warning signs. However, you should also see your dentist if you notice any of the following:
A sore on the lips, gums or inside of your mouth that bleeds easily and does not heal.
A lump or thickening in the cheek that you can feel with your tongue
Loss of feeling or numbness in any part of your mouth
White or red patches on the gums, tongue or inside of mouth
Difficulty chewing or swallowing food
Soreness or unexplained pain in your mouth, or feeling that something is caught in your throat with no known cause
Swelling of the jaw causing your denture not to fit poorly
Chewing tobacco – chronic users of tobacco are 50 times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-users.
Chronic and heavy use of alcohol also increases your risk of cancer, and alcohol combined with tobacco creates a high risk.
Smoking; there is a big connection between smoking and oral cancer. It should be noted that smoking also affects your general health, making it harder to fight infections and recover from injuries or surgery. Many smokers find they cannot smell or taste as well as before, and risk developing bad breath and stained teeth. Smoking cigarettes, a pipe or cigar, greatly increases your chances of developing cancer of the larynx, mouth, throat and esophagus.
After a diagnosis has been made, the dental professionals will develop a treatment plan to fit your needs. Surgery is usually required, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. It’s important to see a dentist who’s familiar with the changes these therapies may cause in the mouth.
The writer is a dentist