As we often say here at Joan's Foundation, when it comes to oral, head and neck cancer, prevention is KEY. This may seem like common sense, but many people simply don't know the risk factors that contribute to this life-threatening disease.
Here are 8 ways to prevent oral, head and neck cancer:
1. Kick the the tobacco habit. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes; chewing tobacco; and using snuff are the largest risk factors for head and neck cancer. Eighty-five percent of head and neck cancer is linked to tobacco use!! In addition, secondhand smoke may increase a person’s risk of developing head and neck cancer. For more information on how to quit, visit www.smokefree.gov.
2. Limit alcohol consumption. This is another important one. Alcohol use raises the risk of developing cancer in the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus. When used in conjunction with tobacco, alcohol increases this risk even more. Heavy or frequent alcohol consumption should be avoided.
3. Get the HPV vaccine. Human Papilloma Virus is becoming an increasingly common risk factor for some types of head and neck cancer. HPV is most often passed from person to person during sexual activity. There are different types, or strains, of HPV, and some strains are more strongly associated with certain types of cancer. HPV vaccines protect against certain strains of the virus. Talk to your doctor to learn more and see why this vaccine is an important part of preventative treatment.
4. Take good care of your oral and dental hygiene. Poor care of the mouth and teeth has been suggested as a factor that may increase the risk of head and neck cancer. Regular brushing, flossing and mouthwashing are all an integral part of maintaining oral health.
5. Eat a healthy balanced diet. A diet low in vitamins A and B can raise a person’s risk of head and neck cancer. Therefore, it is important to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to keep your body healthy and immune system strong.
6. See your dentist twice a year and receive regular oral health screenings. We cannot stress this enough!! Your dentist is on the front-line of defense against oral, head and neck cancer. Regular exams, cleanings, and oral health screenings from your dentist are imperative for catching the earliest warning signs of head and neck cancers.
7. Consult with your physician if a lump, sore, or discolored area does not heal within 10 to 20 days. If a suspicious lump or sore in your mouth does not heal or go away in a couple weeks, visit your doctor immediately. Many cases of oral, head and neck cancer aren't found until they are already in stages 3 or 4 when they are harder to treat and more life-threatening to the patient.
8. Wear clean, well-fitting denture (if you do not have your natural teeth). This may not apply to everyone, but poorly cleaned, ill-fitting dentures can be a breeding ground for bacteria and can trap dangerous carcinogens against the gums. Denture wearers should have their dentures evaluated by a dentist at least every five years to ensure a good fit. Dentures should be removed every night and cleaned and rinsed thoroughly every day.
*This head and neck cancer information is for educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. It has not been designed to replace a physician’s independent judgment.