Last Sunday, the 31st May was World No Tobacco Day. The Australian Dental Association (ADA) is using the growing awareness of this day to set the record straight about the risks of oral cancer. The ADA sent an ‘it’s never too late to quit’ alert to tobacco users of all ages as oral cancer is a known risk of tobacco use yet not as widely known as some of the other cancers.
The ADA released some statics and they show that around 2.6 million Australian adults or nearly 14% of over 18s are daily smokers. Smoking claims the lives of 15,500 Aussies every year and remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease in this country.
Dr Sue-Ching Yeoh, an Oral Medicine Specialist at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and on the ADA’s Dental Therapeutics Committee says that “stopping smoking even after being diagnosed with oral cancer significantly improves the response to cancer treatment, and reduces the risk of other new cancers developing”.
Further statistics show that a 35% reduction in risk is possible within 1 to 4 years and 80% reduction of risk by 20 years, reaching the level of lifelong non-smokers. However, it is important to note that it’s not just cigarettes causing oral cancers.
Experts from the ADA warn about the unknown implications of smokeless tobacco.
“When we talk about tobacco most people think about cigarettes. But across Australia, there is a whole range of other ways people take in tobacco, and the use of smokeless tobacco products such as moist snuff is increasing. Many people don’t realise that the nicotine content of 8-10 chews/dips per day of smokeless tobacco is equivalent to smoking 30 to 40 cigarettes per day. In fact, smokeless tobacco is thought to be more addictive than cigarettes due to the higher nicotine levels in these products”.
No matter how it is ingested, tobacco is detrimental to your health and there is no way to dodge the high risk of oral cancer. The rise in popularity of vaping hasn’t helped the situation either with the number growing quickly each year from 1.2% of all Australians in 2017.
Australians need to take this message seriously. Seek advice and help. Take steps to reduce and quit smoking. It’s about improving your health, and the health of the people around you. Dentists are trained to spot the early signs of cancer in the mouth, so if you have any concerns or if your regular review is overdue due to Covid-19, make a time to go and see your dentist.
Dr Yeoh warns that the signs of oral cancer include an ulcer or sore lasting longer than two weeks, possibly with a raised border, any firm lump, patches of red, white or mixed colour on the soft lining of the mouth, and altered sensation in the mouth, especially with progressive numbness. However some early cancers may not cause any symptoms, she added.