Mouth cancer is a dangerous condition that claims a lot of lives every year. It is more common than leukemia, Hodgkin's disease and cancers of the brain, liver or bone. Fortunately, up to 90% of the cases can be treated successfully if detected early. The oral health foundation has declared the month of November as 'Mouth Cancer Action Month' to raise awareness about the disease and promote the values of early detection and prevention. To be in solidarity with this campaign, we encourage you to do your part by screening yourself at home. Here's all that you need to know about oral cancer self-screening.

What causes oral cancer?

Tobacco: Tobacco, either smoking or smokeless, is one of the main causative factors associated with oral cancer

Alcohol consumption: Heavy alcohol consumption is another cause of oral cancer. Consumption of alcohol with smoking can be more deadly

Human Papilloma Virus: Certain HPV viruses can also cause oral cancer

However, it can also develop in people with no risk factors. It is more common in individuals over the age of 40.

What are the highest risk areas?

Oral cancer mostly develops in the following areas of the mouth:

● Sides and bottom of the tongue

● Floor of the mouth

● Soft palate

● Back of the throat

What to look out for?

● Ulcers that don't show signs of healing even after 3 weeks

● Lumps or swelling in the mouth or head and neck area

● Red and white patches in the mouth

● Persistent hoarseness

● Unusual bleeding, pain or numbness in the mouth

How to check?

There is a better chance at beating mouth cancer when spotted early. The initial screening for mouth cancer is quite simple and can be carried out at home. The steps for screening are outlined below:

Wash your hands and remove any dentures/appliances. Examine yourself in the mirror with a bright flashlight.

● Start with the outer surface of your lips. Stretch your lips outwards and examine all the inside surfaces and gums.

● Observe the insides of both your cheeks with a flashlight and then feel the areas with your fingers for any irregularities

● Next, check the floor of the mouth for any abnormalities. Feel the skin over it for anything unusual.

● Stretch out your tongue and observe the sides, top and under surface.

● Lastly, check the soft palate and the back of the throat by tilting the head back.

If you spot any of the above mentioned symptoms, consult a dentist or a doctor. Do keep in the mind that these symptoms don't often mean cancer. Few infections or other problems can also present with similar symptoms. Regardless, it is crucial to get any such symptoms examined at the earliest. As the campaign slogan goes, "If in doubt, get checked out".