New Delhi: Don`t ignore that jagged tooth or protruding denture piece that is continuously grazing your inner cheek lining, causing a raw wound that never heals. The wound, over time, could turn cancerous.
And on top of that if you are a pan masala, tobacco or betelnut addict, then the chances of getting oral cancer are quite high, says a specialist.
According to Lalit Kumar, professor of medical oncology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), "A sharp or broken tooth with sharp edges may keep irritating the inside lining of the mouth (buccal mucosa) and result in ulcer formation. Over a period of time, if not healed, the continuous irritation may lead to development of cancer."
Matters can get "more complicated if a person is using tobacco/pan masala/supari etc which may be a continuous irritant," Kumar told reporters.
At a recent talk, Kumar was asked by an elderly woman who had got cured of breast cancer why she had suddenly developed oral cancer.
"I don`t smoke, or drink or even chew tobacco, then how did I develop oral cancer," she asked the specialist. Kumar replied that maybe there was a jagged tooth causing constant irritation inside her mouth, which might have over the years developed into cancer.
Tobacco use contributes to 25-30 percent of cancer deaths worldwide, and tobacco use along with alcohol acts as a dangerous cocktail, says Kumar.
But more than tobacco use, diet causes more cancer deaths worldwide - 30-35 percent. Smoked food, which is prevalent in eastern Europe and northeast India, contributes to cancer cases as well as the use of preservatives in food.
Giving an example of smoked food, he said: "Meat, sausages and fish like salmon is cooked over slow fire of wood or coal to make it tastier and also to preserve it for a longer time." However, the smoke from the fire adds its carcinogenic touch to the food in the form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which leads to irritation of the digestive tract, including of the stomach and colon. "The incidence of stomach cancer has been found to be almost 40-50 times higher in people using smoked food regularly."
Some people in order to preserve such food also use potassium nitrate, used as preservative for meat dishes. However, this gets converted to potassium nitrite, which is a co-carcinogen and increases the risk of developing cancer. "Fortunately, such practices are gradually coming down," adds Kumar.
Do genes have a role to play in cancer?
According to Kumar, humans have two sets of genes - the oncogene, which make us prone to develop cancer and the tumor suppressor gene, which prevents development of cancer. "In those who use tobacco, a carcinogen, the cancer promoting genes get activated fast and have the upper hand over the tumor suppressor genes, which finally leads to development of cancer."
But why is it that some people who never smoke or take alcohol get cancer? Explaining, he says: “In non-smokers due to some reason the function of tumor suppressor genes may be obtunded or dulled, or these individuals could be inheriting cancer promoting genes from their parents, which makes them prone. It is possible that these people develop cancer but the risk is very low compared to smokers.”
"But the good part is that prognosis or outcome of such individuals following treatment is much better than those who smoke," he adds.
Family members of patients with lung cancer have 1.5 to 2 times higher risk of developing lung cancer, he informs.
Asked if alternative medicine like ayurveda, homeopathy or Chinese medicine could help in treatment of cancer, he says while there is no doubt that alternative medicine plays an important part in treatment of diseases, including cancer, there is no scientific study to back it.
However, he feels that yoga and other alternative methods do help to improve tolerance of treatment and possibly reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
About 10 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year worldwide.
The signs to watch out for are sudden change in bowel movements - constipation and diarrhoea - which is not getting better, passing urine frequently and spotted with blood, ulcer in mouth that is not getting better, vaginal discharge or bleeding, lump in the breast or thickening, choked foodpipe, difficulty in swallowing semi solid or liquid food, change in size of wart or mole, or its colour, persistent smokers` cough with hoarseness in voice.
In India, around one million people are diagnosed with cancer every year.