Oral cancer (mouth cancer) is the most common form of head and neck cancer. It usually affects people over the age of 60. Oral cancer affects your lips and the first parts of your tongue, as well as the roof and floor of your mouth. It also affects the oropharynx, which includes the last part of your tongue and the roof of your mouth, your tonsils, and the sides and back of your throat.
When most people think of oral health, they think only of their teeth. And while a bright and healthy smile is important, there are other threats to your oral health that can develop out of sight and away from your teeth. While we at Pearl Dental P.C. check for early signs of mouth cancer at each of your regular appointments, it’s important that you can recognize the warning signals so that you can bring them to your dentist’s attention right away.
What is Oral Cancer?
The broad term for cancer that affects the inside of your mouth is oral cancer (mouth cancer). Oral cancer can appear as a common problem with your lips or mouth, such as white patches or bleeding sores. The distinction between a common problem and potential cancer is that these changes do not disappear. Oral cancer, if left untreated, can spread from your mouth and throat to other parts of your head and neck. Five years after diagnosis, approximately 63% of people with oral cavity cancer are still alive. The American Cancer Society estimates that 54,540 people in the United States will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer or oropharyngeal cancer in 2023.
Symptoms and Signs
Oral cancer refers to cancerous growths that occur anywhere in the mouth or throat, including the tongue, lips, salivary glands, larynx, pharynx, and sinuses. Since early detection is crucial to overcoming oral cancer, you should contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms for longer than two weeks:
- The development of thick white, red, or speckled patches in your mouth
- Unexplained bleeding from your mouth
- Swelling, lumps, bumps, rough spots, crusts, or any other odd textures on the gums, lips, or other areas inside the mouth
- Unexplained loss of feeling, numbness, or tenderness/pain anywhere on the face, neck, or mouth
- Sores on the face, mouth, or neck that easily bleed and do not heal over two weeks
- Problems speaking, chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue or jaw
- Ear pain
- A chronic sore throat, hoarseness, or change in voice
- A feeling that something is caught in the back of your throat
- A shift in the way your teeth or dentures fit together
- Dramatic weight loss
What Causes Oral Cancer?
There is no definitive cause for oral cancer. However, there are a handful of lifestyle factors that can make someone a high-risk candidate for the disease, such as:
- Smoking: If you smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes you are six times more likely than nonsmokers to get oral cancer.
- Alternative Tobacco Use: Without the smoke, tobacco is even more dangerous. Those who dip, snuff, or chew tobacco products are 50 times more likely to develop cancer in their gums, cheeks, and the lining of the lips.
- Family history: Like nearly all diseases, if you have a family history of the disease, it is much more likely.
- Too much sun: Excessive exposure, particularly at a young age, raises the risk.
- Too much alcohol: Similar to smoking, oral cancer is six times more likely in drinkers than in non-drinkers.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): Some strains of HPV present etiologic risk factors for a specific type of cancer called Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC)
Despite all of these factors, over a quarter of all oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and who only drink alcohol occasionally, so everyone must be aware of the warning signs. If you feel like you may be exhibiting symptoms of oral cancer, call Pearl Dental P.C. today and schedule a consultation.