What is Lip Cancer?
Lip Cancer is a form of Oral or “head and neck” Cancer that develops in the thin flat cells that are found on the lip. These cells are called squamous cells and are found not just on the lips but also in the mouth on the tongue and in the throat. Cancers affecting these Squamous Cells are the most common Cancer of the head and neck. Left untreated a Lip Cancer can spread to the mouth, tongue even the voice box becoming more difficult to cure.
What Causes Lip cancer?
The most common causes of Lip Cancer are Smoking Cigarettes, heavily alcohol use and sun exposure (including Tanning beds or facial tanning lights which while commercially banned in Australia are unfortunately still available to purchase for personal use!) The lower lip is more at risk due to its protrusion and increased sun exposure. Less commonly the Lip Cancer could be caused by HPV (human papilloma virus), a Sexually transmitted infection.
How is Lip cancer diagnosed?
Dental professionals such as Dentists and Dental Hygienists are often the first to notice signs of Lip Cancers during routine visits. Signs that we will look for include;
If during your appointment your dental professional feels that any of the above warrant further investigation you will be referred to a specialist who will take a further look, run any tests required or take a biopsy. The biopsy is reviewed by a pathologist in a laboratory. If you have any areas of concern do not wait and pay a visit to your dental professional for it concern to be assessed.
What treatments are available for Lip Cancer?
When diagnosed early a small surgery is generally sufficient. If the cancer had grown sometime chemotherapy or radiation is used to shrink the cancer before surgery. On top of these treatments immunotherapy and gene therapy are also options especially if the caner has spread to other parts of the body. Some of the treatments can leave permanent or long lasting complications such as scarring and reduced function in the surrounding areas.
How is Lip cancer Prevented?
Prevention is key and mostly revolves around avoiding the known causes. Quitting Smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding sun exposure are ideal. When you are outside SPF sunscreen or an SPF lip balm should be worn. Avoiding lip glosses and ointments such as Paw Paw and Vaseline when going outside as these have a similar effect to the 1970’s-80’s practise of using baby oil while sun tanning!
It is important to note that people undergoing treatment for head and neck cancers that have quit smoking respond better to treatment and have better outcomes than those that continue to smoke. Those that quit smoking before a head or neck cancer forms decrease their chances of developing this dangerous form of cancer.