Cancer is defined as the uncontrollable growth of cells that invade and cause damage to surrounding tissue. Oral cancer appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not go away. Oral cancer, which includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat), can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.
The most common sites for oral cancer to be found are the tongue (which has the highest prevalence), throat, floor of the mouth and lips. Regular tobacco use (both chewing and smoking), alcohol consumption and prolonged sun exposure all increase risk in addition to age.
What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
The most common symptoms of oral cancer include:
- Swellings/thickenings, lumps or bumps, rough spots/crusts/or eroded areas on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth
- The development of velvety white, red, or speckled (white and red) patches in the mouth
Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Unexplained numbness, loss of feeling, or pain/tenderness in any area of the face, mouth, or neck
- Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within 2 weeks
- A soreness or feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
- Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or change in voice
- Ear pain
- A change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together
- Dramatic weight loss
If you notice any of these changes, contact your dentist or health care professional immediately.
Who Gets Oral Cancer?
Risk factors for the development of oral cancer include:
- Smoking . Cigarette,cigar, or pipe smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop oral cancers.
- Smokeless tobacco users. Users of dip, snuff, or chewing tobacco products are 50 times more likely to develop cancers of the cheek, gums, and lining of the lips.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol. Oral cancers are about six times more common in drinkers than in nondrinkers.
- Family history of cancer.
- Excessive sun exposure, especially at a young age.
It is important to note that over 25% of all oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and who only drink alcohol occasionally.
What Can I Do to Prevent Oral Cancer?
To prevent oral cancer:
- Don’t smoke or use any tobacco products and drink alcohol in moderation (and refrain from binge drinking).
- Eat a well balanced diet.
- Limit your exposure to the sun. Repeated exposure increases the risk of cancer on the lip, especially the lower lip. When in the sun, use UV-A/B-blocking sun protective lotions on your skin, as well as your lips.
You can take an active role in detecting oral cancer early, should it occur, by doing the following:
- See your dentist on a regular schedule.
- Do Mouth Test yourself once a month.
LOOK: Look on all sides of the tongue, on the floor of the mouth, the cheeks, the hard palate, the soft palate, gums and teeth. Look for anything abnormal or different from the day before – any white or red patches, sores, bleeding, loose or broken teeth.
FEEL: Feel for any lumps, bumps, sores that bleed and do not heal. Check if the person had trouble chewing or swallowing
TELL: Write down any concerns to discuss with your dentist. If the area of concern is still present or continues to worsen 7-14 days after initial finding, make arrangements to see a dentist of doctor.