Ali Lowe: Get ‘Lip Fit’ to Avoid Cancer

Health & Hygiene
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Supported by Philips, hygienist Ali Lowe launches her ‘Lip Fit’ campaign to fight lip cancers

A few years ago, I had light bulb moment during a routine appointment. My patient had a sore on his lower lip and I suggested he had it checked by a doctor. He later confirmed that what I had spotted was lip cancer. That made me shiver!

Although dental school teaches us to look at the lips of patients, the inside of the mouth is what we are generally interested in and the lips are just what get in the way of our treatment. Most lip cancers begin in the thin, flat cells in the middle and outer layers of the skin called squamous cells, which is why they are called squamous call carcinomas. These cancers tend to spread quickly, so I felt lucky that my patient took my professional advice seriously.

I think that the Covid situation has helped. Since lockdown, people have really focused on self-care and changed their stance towards healthcare professionals. They value what we say more, embracing any tips we can offer to boost their immunity and reduce vulnerability to disease and illness.

As a profession, we talk about oral cancer in general and risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), but how often do we mention UV damage? The incidence of lip cancer in the UK is thankfully not so high, but not non-existent. The risk is going to increase, compounded by climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, global warming and ambient air pollution.

Following Covid people taking up outdoor hobbies such as running, walking, cycling, gardening and water sports, all leading to greater susceptibility to UV radiation-induced carcinogenesis, hence the need to continue raising awareness.
Consumers’ lives have evolved and we have a duty of care as professionals to flag up any health risks – whether dentally related or not – and make a difference.

With sponsorship from Philips, I recently joined the Smile Revolution business course with Victoria Wilson (above) to help develop a lip care awareness project. The course has been so thought-provoking, showing me how to tap into my skills and expertise while also helping me think outside the box and expand my vision for the project. Victoria is amazing at giving advice about how to expand on my ideas.

I hope to inspire my peers to see how they can expand their skills and develop similar initiatives – we have so much to offer to the general public, which is an exciting and rewarding prospect from a professional development viewpoint – and to work outside a practice setting.

According to the British Skin Foundation, lip cancer accounts for about 12.0 per 100,000 per annum of all cancers in the United Kingdom. The good news is that because they are in a visible area, cancers of the lip are usually caught early and treatment is often successful.

Sadly, if not spotted soon enough lip cancer can have many functional and cosmetic consequences. Following treatment sufferers may experience trouble with speech, chewing, and swallowing. Surgery can also result in disfigurement of the lip and face.

We should always strive to relay as much information as possible. So here are a few details I gathered and which I would love you to pass on to as many patients, family and friends as possible:

  • The British Skin Foundation recommends using an SPF higher than 30, and, if you have a fair complexion, that rises to SPF 50. Properly applied, SPF 50 can block 98% of all rays.
  • The sun emits both UVB and UVA rays, the latter of which penetrate the skin deeper and contribute to signs of ageing. Sunscreens that are ‘broad spectrum’ claim to contain protection for both.
  • Everyone should wear a broad-spectrum SPF lip balm regardless of age, gender, or skin type.

There are two types of sunscreens:

  • Physical sunscreen creates a barrier to deflect UV rays and includes ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide, which can appear white and be thicker in texture.
  • Chemical screens, on the other hand, are absorbed into the skin and scatter UV radiation. These sunscreens are thinner and require less product to protect, ingredients include oxybenzone, oxtinoxate and avobenzone.

Women should be made aware that a shiny lip gloss can actually absorb sunlight, increasing the risk of a sunburn on your lips and wearing non-SPF lip products will not only offer no protection they could actually do more damage than leaving your lips bare. Instead, a dedicated sunscreen is needed – SPF infused lip balms will shield them from UVA/UVB rays and they are often formulated with nourishing ingredients and antioxidants that will keep dryness and cracking under control.

There are also some ingredients you should avoid as they can be very irritating. They include camphor, menthol, fragrances, flavours, phenol and salicylic acid. Instead, SPF lip balm should contain nourishing and hydrating ingredients such as shea butter, honey, jojoba oil, vitamin E, and aloe that will restore moisture, relieve chapped lips, and soften the skin.

People should look for products made without parabens, petrolatum, and gluten. For people who fear to ingest anything, make it nicotinamide as this vitamin has been shown to decrease the risk of skin cancer. The risks of blue light (HEV) emitted from digital devices should be mentioned as prevention is better than cure. There is a lot of literature out there on the subject.

November is Mouth Cancer Action Month so I would prompt my colleagues to set a target and talk to as many people as possible about this. If just one person benefits from your advice, it will be worth it.

As for my project, I am delighted to have the support of Philips Oral Healthcare’s sponsorship for Victoria’s mentorship which will favourably impact on the way I progress my lip project.

I have now launched a campaign called Fit-Lip, aimed at encouraging people to wear SPF lip balm in order to protect their lips, prevent lip cancer and generally keep their pout healthy.

Anyone interested to learn more about the action can visit Instagram https://www.instagram.com/fitlipuk/ or go to www.smile-revolution.net and www.smilerevolutiongrowthhub.com

Author:

Ali Lowe qualified as a hygienist from Cardiff Dental school, has worked in various fields of dentistry and is actively involved with the BSDHT.