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Abu Dhabi: A vast majority of residents in the UAE are still failing to undergo comprehensive oral screenings, and this greatly increases the risk that preliminary signs of oral cancer will go undiagnosed for too long, experts have said.

The cancer, which is not uncommon in the UAE, often goes undetected due to its painless nature, they added. But its risk can be exacerbated by habits like smoking, which is prevalent among 18.1 per cent of adult men and 2.5 per cent of adult women in the UAE.

Because smoking is closely correlated to oral cancer risk, residents should not take the risk of developing oral cancer lightly, said Dr Per Rehnberg, chief executive officer at one of the capital’s largest private dental clinics, Sno Dental.

“Unfortunately, many residents do not go for regular dental checks twice a year. And even when they do see a dentist, many practitioners only look at the health of the teeth or deal with emergency treatment. As a result, the patient does not get a comprehensive oral health screening, which also examines the state of the internal soft tissue and mucosa,” Dr Rehnberg told Gulf News.

It is in the mucosa, the thin layer of skin on the inside of the oral cavity, or on the tongue that pre-cancerous lesions first appear, mostly as white patches and ulcers. Over time and in the absence of the required treatment, the lesions can develop into oral cancer.

A 2013 study by researchers at the Mafraq Dental Centre in Abu Dhabi and Ajman University found that 15 per cent of nearly 1,000 oral biopsies revealed malignant tumours. In more than half the patients who had follow-up neck dissections, the cancer had already metastasised to the neck.

“Often, it is not the oral cancer itself that is fatal. Instead, the cancer spreads to the neck and chest, and this is what proves deadly,” explained Dr Hisham Ahmedian, consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Mediclinic Airport Road Hospital.

To treat oral cancers, patients may then need surgery along with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. But the treatment is often unsuccessful if the cancer is detected late.

“The good news is that oral cancers are often preventable, simply by avoiding negative habits like smoking, alcohol consumption and tobacco use. What is worrying, however, is that a large proportion of young resident are involved in one form or another of smoking, whether it be cigarettes, sheesha or loose tobacco like midwakh,” Dr Ahmedian said.

The doctor also stressed on the importance of regular screenings.

“Many residents opt not to get checked regularly because their health insurance does not cover dental treatment. But this simply necessitates expensive treatment later on, and allows potentially fatal oral cancers to go undetected,” Dr Rehnberg added.

To help residents gain better awareness about oral cancer and its hazards, Sno Dental is therefore offering free cancer screenings till April 26.

Tips to reduce oral cancer risk

Don’t use tobacco products.

Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day and flossing often.

Visit a dentist every six months and request a comprehensive oral screening.

Do not ignore oral ulcers, bleeding or pain. Instead, see a dentist.

Maintain a healthy diet and undertake exercise regularly.

Avoid consuming alcohol.

Source: Sno Dental