As with most cancers, oral cancer is much easier to treat when caught early.
This type of cancer can attack the back of the throat, and the mouth where it affects the gums, tongue and the tissue lining the mouth.
Dr Karebu Bizumuremyi, a dental surgeon at the University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK) says this disease can be detected during routine examination of the oral cavity (mouth) by a doctor or a physician, but also a patient can know it according to the signs and symptoms.
These can include non-healing oral ulcers of more than weeks, white and red patches which cannot be scraped off in any parts of the oral cavity, bad breath, and pain in the jaw.
The unusual swelling in the oral cavity can be seen to be cancerous or precancerous until proven otherwise.
The risk of oral cancer associated with tobacco use is noted to be 2 to 12 times higher than in the non-smoking population, 90% of individuals with oral cancers will have a smoking history, Bizumuremyi says.
Though alcohol alone is not a recognised initiator in the development of oral cancer, the medic says it has been said to accelerate the disease, especially when coupled with smoking.
He goes on to note that the other risk factors of oral cancer include untreated oral disease, which itself can initiate the oral cancer, as they can lead to gene mutations because of its chronic irritation of the lining of the oral cavity, throat, and lip.
Human papilloma virus which people are likely to get from oral sex is a risk factor too, he adds.
Furthermore, too much sun exposure of the lips and also, people with a weak immune system are likely to get oral cancer.
Bizumuremyi reveals that oral cancer is treated in three ways which can be merged depending on the stage of the disease.
“Oral cancer can be treated by surgical excision, radiotherapy, chemotherapy but all this can be done in combination depending on the stage of the cancer,” he says.
Prevention of oral cancer on the other hand is done through regular oral check-up as an individual or with oral healthcare providers.
There are also other ways of preventing this form of cancer including the following tips:
Do visit oral health care provider in any case you noticed unusual changes in your oral cavity
· Improve oral hygiene (brush teeth at least twice a day) and change your tooth brush often.
· Visit your dentist at least twice a year for regular check ups
· Avoid tobacco use and alcohol consumption
· Do self-oral check-up at home
It’s important to be acquainted with such information in order to succeed with prevention.
“In general, Rwandans are not much aware about oral cancer, and don’t usually mind oral health as they tend to visit dentists when the disease is in its late stage, where it is difficult to manage. But regular check-up for oral health is the best way to beat oral cancer, and increasing its awareness will reduce its effect.”