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Oral cancer

We don't tend to hear much about oral cancer. But there are several places in the mouth and throat where it can appear, for instance on the tongue, lips, palate, salivary glands and tonsils.

Your dentist can detect oral cancer as soon as it begins, with a clinical examination, or screening, during your routine check-up. It's a simple and painless examination that takes only a few minutes and requires no sophisticated apparatus.

What to watch for:

  • a sore on the lip or in the mouth that lasts longer than two weeks
  • a lump on the lip or in the mouth or throat
  • a white or red patch on the gums, tongue or edge of the lip
  • difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing
  • swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly
  • a change in the voice, a sore throat that doesn't go away or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • unusual bleeding, numbness of the tongue, lip or face
  • a lump in your neck or under your lower jaw that lasts longer than a few weeks

Every year, more than 700 people in Quebec learn that they have oral cancer.
Close to 300 of them die of it – close to one a day.

Some preventive measures

  • See your dentist regularly and ask for an oral cancer screening test.
  • Stop smoking or using other forms of tobacco.
  • Drink in moderation (see the Éduc’alcool site for more information).
  • Limit your exposure to the sun and use sunscreen on your lips.
  • Eat healthily, with at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
  • Regularly check the inside of your mouth to detect any signs or symptoms and immediately report any change to your dentist.

Did you know?

The earlier oral cancer is discovered, the better the chance of survival. Five years after a diagnosis, eight out of ten individuals survive if oral cancer is detected early, as compared with only two out of ten if it is detected at an advanced stage.

Risk factors

  • Smoking and heavy drinking are the most important risk factors. Although they can both cause oral cancer alone, when combined they multiply the risk.
  • Men age 45 and older are two to three times more at risk for oral cancer than are women.
  • Research suggests that a diet without enough fresh fruit and vegetables may also be a possible risk factor.