How Can I Reduce My Risk of Oral Cancer Blog Cover Image

Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer or cancer of the oral cavity, is a significant health concern in Australia and globally. It encompasses a range of cancers affecting the mouth’s various parts, such as the lips, tongue, gums, and the floor or roof of the mouth, often presenting on the sides of the tongue and the mouth’s floor​​. This blog aims to provide an extensive overview of oral cancer, discussing its definition, causes, symptoms, detection, and treatment, primarily drawing from authoritative Australian resources.

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer refers to the malignant growths that can appear in any part of the oral cavity. It’s an aggressive type of cancer with a 50% five-year survival rate, largely because it tends to go undetected until it reaches an advanced stage. As such, awareness and early detection are critical for improving outcomes

Symptoms and Warning Signs

In its early stages, oral cancer may not present any symptoms, which contributes to late diagnosis. However, there are warning signs to be vigilant about:

  • Persistent sores, lumps, or changes in the mouth’s soft tissues
  • Ulcers lasting more than two weeks or recurrent ulcers
  • Unexplained bleeding or blood blisters that don’t heal
  • White or red patches inside the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing, jaw or tongue movement
  • Persistent sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Swollen glands under the jaw or swollen jaw
  • Numbness in the mouth or changes in voice.

Detection and Diagnosis

Regular dental check-ups are crucial as dentists perform screenings for oral cancer during routine examinations. This is also why individuals with no natural teeth, including those who wear dentures, should still undergo regular dental inspections for any abnormalities​.

The Most Common Form: Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most prevalent type of oral cancer, affecting the soft tissue linings of the mouth (oral mucosa)​

Risk Factors

Lifestyle factors play a significant role in the risk of developing oral cancer. Tobacco use and alcohol consumption are primary risk factors, with their combined use markedly increasing the risk. Other factors include:

  • Age (most cases are in those over 40)
  • Gender (more prevalent in men)
  • Areca nut (betel quid) chewing
  • Viral infections such as HPV
  • Family history of cancer
  • Past cancer treatments
  • Long-term immunosuppression​

Tobacco Use

All forms of smoking, including vaping, cigarettes, cigars, and marijuana, increase the risk of oral cancer. Quitting these habits is the most effective prevention, and dental professionals can offer support and strategies for cessation

Alcohol Consumption

All forms of smoking, including vaping, cigarettes, cigars, and marijuana, increase the risk of oral cancer. Quitting these habits is the most effective prevention, and dental professionals can offer support and strategies for cessation.

HPV and Oral Sex

HPV transmission through oral sex is a known risk factor for oral cancer, particularly affecting the throat. Safe sex practices and HPV vaccinations (Gardasil and Cervarix) are recommended for both men and women to lower this risk​

Sun Exposure

The lips are vulnerable to sun damage, which can lead to cancer. Using SPF15+ lip balm and sunscreen, and wearing hats are recommended preventive measures against harmful UV rays


The course of treatment for oral cancer depends on the cancer’s stage at diagnosis and may involve surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy


Oral cancer is a severe yet often preventable disease. Awareness of its symptoms, risk factors, and the importance of regular dental check-ups can significantly improve early detection and outcomes. Australians are encouraged to adopt healthier lifestyles, avoid tobacco and excessive alcohol, and engage in protective measures against sun exposure and HPV to reduce their risk of oral cancer.

In understanding oral cancer, we must emphasise the importance of education and preventative healthcare in mitigating the impact of this aggressive cancer type. By staying informed and proactive, we can work towards reducing the incidence and mortality rates associated with oral cancer.

At Dentists In Annerley, QLD, Australia, we pride ourselves on setting the highest standard of patient care, ensuring an experience that fuses comfort with unmatched dental health services. Our clinic acts as an oasis for advanced periodontal treatments, performed with precision and a delicate touch to guarantee the best oral health outcomes for our patients. Centrally located for Annerley residents and those from surrounding suburbs, we invite individuals from Woolloongabba, Greenslopes, Fairfield, Yeronga, Moorooka, Tarragindi, Holland Park, West End, Highgate Hill, Dutton Park, Coorparoo, Carina Heights, Mount Gravatt, East Brisbane, and Stones Corner to partake in exceptional dental care. Our dedication to oral health is solid, with a personalized approach to periodontal care that is aimed at enhancing both the resilience and aesthetics of our patients’ smiles.

In the bustling environment of Annerley and its nearby areas, Dentists In Annerley emerges as a haven of dental health and well-being. We address a broad range of dental needs, from routine examinations and cleanings to emergency dental treatments, all the while utilizing modern CEREC technology for immediate ceramic restorations. Our broad suite of services spans root canal therapies, wisdom tooth extractions, and the creation of tailored veneers, crowns, and implants, in addition to specializing in periodontics, pediatric dentistry, and orthodontic aligners. Our facility is equipped with contemporary X-ray machinery, ensuring an expedient and accurate diagnostic and treatment journey. We have meticulously designed every aspect of our practice to optimize the efficiency, thoroughness, and comfort of your visit.

The guiding principle at Dentists In Annerley is the belief that exemplary dental care should be within reach for everyone. We are committed to offering a comprehensive variety of dental services that cater to the varied dental concerns of our patients. From preventive maintenance to the craftsmanship of cosmetic dentistry, and the detailed care required for complex dental treatments, our team at Dentists In Annerley is steadfast in their quest for dental excellence. This dedication is apparent in our gentle demeanor and the detailed attention we apply in each treatment, ensuring every patient leaves with a smile that is as radiant in appearance as it is in health.

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Frequently Ask Questions

Oral cancer refers to the group of cancers that occur in the oral cavity, including the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, gums, and sometimes extending to the throat. It starts in the cells lining the mouth and can be aggressive if not detected and treated early.

The most commonly affected areas include the sides of the tongue and the floor of the mouth. However, oral cancer can also occur on the lips, inside the cheeks, gums, and the back of the throat.

Oral cancer represents up to four percent of all cancers diagnosed in Australia, with a notable increase in incidence in recent years. It predominantly affects people over the age of 40 and is more common in men than women.

Early signs may be subtle and include persistent sores, lumps, or ulcers that do not heal within two weeks; white or red patches in the mouth; unexplained bleeding; and difficulty with chewing or swallowing. However, in its earliest stages, oral cancer may not produce any symptoms.

Oral cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage because early-stage oral cancers usually do not cause symptoms, or the symptoms may be similar to less serious conditions, which can lead to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.

Risk factors include tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, HPV infection, areca nut (betel quid) chewing, exposure to UV light (for lip cancers), immunosuppression, a family history of cancer, and prior cancer therapies.

Tobacco contains carcinogens that can cause mutations in the cells of the mouth, leading to cancer. This risk is present in all forms of tobacco use, including smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and also smokeless tobacco. The combination of tobacco use with alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk.

Yes, there is a strong link. Alcohol can act as a solvent, enhancing the penetration of other carcinogens into the cells lining the mouth. It also metabolizes into acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical that can damage DNA and promote cancer.

Yes, while smoking is a major risk factor, oral cancer can also appear in non-smokers. Other risk factors like alcohol use, HPV infection, and sun exposure (for lip cancer) can contribute to the development of oral cancer in individuals who have never smoked.

HPV, particularly strain HPV16, is a significant risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the back of the mouth and throat). It is transmitted through oral sex and can cause mutations in the throat cells, leading to cancer. The increase in HPV-related oral cancers has been a concern, and vaccination against HPV is recommended to reduce this risk.

Yes, men are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer. This disparity is thought to be due to higher rates of tobacco and alcohol use among men, which are significant risk factors for the disease​

Oral cancer is most commonly diagnosed in individuals over the age of 40. Risk increases with age, and the majority of cases are found in the older population

Reducing the risk involves quitting tobacco use, moderating alcohol consumption, protecting lips from sun exposure, maintaining a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, practicing safe sex to reduce HPV transmission, and getting vaccinated against HPV​

Yes, particularly for the lips. Chronic sun exposure can lead to cancer on the lips. Using lip balm with SPF15+ and applying broad-spectrum sunscreen is recommended for protection against harmful UV rays​

Dentists can perform screenings for oral cancer as part of routine dental examinations. This includes checking not just the teeth but also the entire oral cavity for any unusual changes or lesions​

Treatments include surgery to remove the cancerous growths, radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells, and chemotherapy to target cancer cells throughout the body. The specific treatment plan depends on the stage and location of the cancer

Early detection significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and can lead to a cure. The prognosis is best when oral cancer is diagnosed and treated in its initial stages before it has spread

The five-year survival rate for oral cancer is approximately 50%. However, survival rates vary depending on several factors, including the cancer’s stage at diagnosis, location, and the patient’s overall health

It is generally recommended that adults receive an oral cancer screening as part of their routine dental check-ups, which are typically advised every 6 to 12 months. However, individuals with higher risk factors may need more frequent screenings

No, denture wearers should still undergo regular oral cancer screenings. Dentists will examine the gums and other soft tissues in the mouth to check for abnormalities, which is crucial even for those without natural teeth​

Precancerous lesions in the mouth are abnormal cell growths that can potentially develop into cancer. They are not yet cancerous but may become so if left unchecked. Regular dental check-ups can aid in the early detection of these lesions, improving the chances of preventing the development of oral cancer

Oral cancer is considered a type of head and neck cancer. It shares risk factors with other cancers in this category, such as tobacco and alcohol use, HPV, and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infections. A family history of these cancers can also be a risk factor

A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of oral cancer. Nutrient-rich foods contain antioxidants and other compounds that can help protect cells from damage that could lead to cancer. Conversely, a balanced diet rich in these foods may help reduce the risk.

Yes, HPV vaccines, which protect against the high-risk strains of HPV known to cause cancers, can reduce the risk of developing oral cancers associated with HPV infection.

Symptoms of advanced oral cancer may include persistent lumps or sores in the mouth that do not heal, severe pain, difficulty chewing or swallowing, significant weight loss, and changes in speech. If any of these symptoms are present, it is critical to seek medical attention immediately​

A self-exam for oral cancer involves looking and feeling inside the mouth for lumps, sores, or white or red patches. Using a mirror and good lighting, examine all areas of the mouth, including the roof, floor, tongue, cheeks, and the back of the throat. Report any abnormalities to a healthcare professional.

Oral cancer can be particularly aggressive due to its ability to quickly invade surrounding tissues and spread to other parts of the body (metastasize). Additionally, its location in the mouth can complicate early detection, as changes may be subtle and mistaken for other benign conditions.

Lifestyle changes to help prevent oral cancer include quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, maintaining good oral hygiene, eating a balanced diet, protecting lips from the sun, and having regular dental check-ups that include oral cancer screenings.

To protect against lip cancer, use a lip balm with a high SPF, avoid excessive sun exposure, especially during peak hours, and wear a wide-brimmed hat to shield the face and lips from UV rays.

In Australia, various support services are available for individuals diagnosed with oral cancer. The Cancer Council provides a helpline (13 11 20) for information and support, support groups for shared experiences, practical services like transport to treatment, wig services to help with self-confidence, and an online community for further support. They also offer e-learning resources for cancer education and podcasts for additional information and support​