Oral cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Still, there are many myths about it. Let us bust them this Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

Oral cancer is a common type of cancer that gets developed when abnormal cells within the lining of different parts of the mouth grow uncontrollably. The gums, tongue, floor of the mouth or lips get affected. If you have oral cancer, you may have throat pain or a sore in the mouth that does not get healed. It is a common type of cancer and so, there are many myths around oral cancer. April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to bust some myths about oral cancer.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer is a disease affecting various parts of the mouth and throat. This malignancy can manifest in areas such as the lips, tongue, gums, oropharynx and larynx, says oncologist Dr Ashish Gupta. According to the World Health Organization, oral cancer is the thirteenth most common type of cancer in the world. It took lives of 177,757 people in 2020.

10 oral cancer myths and facts
Oral cancer can be deadly if not detected early. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the common myths and facts around oral cancer?

It is important to dispel common myths surrounding oral cancer and have accurate information about it. Here are some common myths:

1. Myth: Only smokers get oral cancer.

Fact: It is true that smoking increases the risk, but non-smokers can also end up with oral cancer, says the expert. Alcohol consumption, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, and sun exposure are all potential contributing factors.

2. Myth: Only elderly people get affected by oral cancer.

Fact: While age is a risk factor, younger people can also develop oral cancer, especially due to HPV infection and risk factors like smoking and chewing tobacco. According to a 2022 study published in the Iranian Journal of Public Health, the chance of developing oral cancer among HPV positive patients was found to be higher than that in HPV negative patients.

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3. Myth: Oral cancer is rare.

Fact: Oral cancer is pretty common worldwide. In fact, India has the largest number of cases related to oral cancer, and one-third of the total burden of the disease globally, as per a 2020 research published in Sensors International.

4. Myth: Oral cancer is not deadly.

Fact: Oral cancer can be life-threatening if it is not detected early and treated on time. It not only affects your mouth, as it has the potential to spread to other areas of the body.

5. Myth: Only men get oral cancer.

Fact: Oral cancer has got nothing to do with gender. Both men and women can develop oral cancer. However, men are at a higher risk, especially those over 40 years old, says the expert.

6. Myth: Mouthwash can prevent oral cancer.

Fact: Regular oral hygiene is important, but using mouthwash alone cannot prevent oral cancer. Avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol consumption, and having regular dental check-ups are more effective preventive measures.

7. Myth: Oral cancer is not contagious.

Fact: Oral cancer itself is not contagious, but factors like HPV infection, which can increase the risk of oral cancer, can be transmitted through sexual contact.

8. Myth: If you have oral cancer, you will definitely know it.

Fact: Oral cancer symptoms include sore that does not heal or a lump or a patch in white or red colour on the inside of the mouth. The signs can be subtle at times and easily misdiagnosed for other oral conditions.

A person saying no to smoking to prevent oral cancer
Avoid tobacco to prevent oral cancer. Image courtesy: Freepik

9. Myth: Surgery is the only treatment for oral cancer.

Fact: Treatment for oral cancer is determined by a variety of factors, including the stage and location of the cancer. Surgery is to remove the cancerous tissue, but there are other treatment options too. Radiation therapy can kill cancer cells or shrink tumours given with or without chemotherapy, which helps to destroy cancer cells or stop their growth. Targeted therapy can attack specific cancer cells while minimising damage to healthy cells. Immunotherapy, another option, can boost the body’s immune system to fight cancer, says Dr Gupta.

10. Myth: Once treated, oral cancer won’t come back.

Fact: There is a risk of oral cancer recurrence, especially if risk factors like smoking or alcohol consumption persist. Regular follow-up appointments are crucial for monitoring and early detection of recurrence.

It is best to prevent oral cancer by avoiding tobacco in any form, including cigarettes, cigars and pipes. You should practise good oral hygiene by brushing teeth regularly and flossing. Eat a nutritious diet full of fruits and vegetables. You can even get vaccinated against HPV to be on the safer side.

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