You normally slap on sunscreen, but what about for your mouth? Lip cancer protection should be on the tip of your tongue.
Living, working, and playing under the Australian sun, we’re all aware of just how important it is to protect our skin from cancer-causing UV rays. Despite slathering on the sunscreen, you may be surprised to learn that you’re leaving a big gap in your lip cancer protection regime, potentially opening yourself up to risky lip cancers if you’re not specifically protecting your lips.
What are the risk factors when you head outside, and what do you need to be doing to prevent the possibility of lip and mouth cancers so you can safely continue enjoying sunny summer days for years to come?
What is lip cancer?
Just like any other type of skin cancer, lip cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy healthy body tissue. It is one of the most common types of oral cancer and has the highest risk of spreading to other areas, which is why lip cancer prevention is key.
Lip cancer can take many different forms and is therefore sometimes tricky to spot. It could look like a red, scaly spot that itches or bleeds and doesn’t heal, a wart or lump under the skin’s surface, or even just a pale patch of skin that looks like a scar.
If you notice any changes to the appearance of your lips, you should always get a professional opinion from your doctor or dentist as soon as possible. Remember, the earlier you can identify a cancer, the better your chances of treating it effectively and reducing the chances of it coming back.
Lip cancer risk factors
What could be more quintessentially Australian than playing beach cricket in the sun and rewarding yourself with a cold beer afterwards?
As Aussie as these are, two of the biggest factors known to increase your risk of developing lip cancers include UV radiation exposure from the sun or tanning beds, and heavy alcohol consumption. According to studies by the US National Cancer Institute, drinking an average of three to four alcoholic beverages per day will double your risk of developing oral cancer, so it pays to cut down if you’re indulging more than a little.
What’s more, if you needed another reason to quit smoking, the same study showed that smokers are ten times more likely than nonsmokers to develop oral cancer. In fact, the majority of oral cancer cases are linked to tobacco use, whether that be smoking cigarettes, pipes, or chewing tobacco.
Other risk factors can’t be changed, but it still pays to be aware. Having a fair complexion, an HPV infection, being male, or just over the age of 40 all increase your risk of developing oral cancer, highlighting just why these groups need to be particularly proactive about lip cancer protection.
Lip cancer prevention made easy
As the weather heats up and holidays loom, you might be wondering how you’re going to protect your lips from cancer without locking yourself indoors and avoiding the sun like a vampire.
Luckily, just like sunscreen for your skin, you can use an SPF30+, broad spectrum, water resistant lip balm to block out harmful UV radiation. The key is to reapply regularly, because as we eat, drink, and lick our lips, the protection can quickly be wiped off. Additionally, lip balm can be absorbed into dry, thirsty lips, or even get broken down by ultraviolet light, so it’s important to keep swiping it on regularly.
One more thing: make sure to get regular oral cancer screenings when you visit the dentist, especially if you are in one of the higher risk groups. The more you can do to stay on top of potential issues, the better position you’ll be in.