Oral cancer, or mouth cancer, is a serious health issue that can cause major complications if gone untreated. It affects the structures that make up your mouth, including your tongue, lips, cheeks and throat. It can be caused by lifestyle factors such as smoking and drinking alcohol or due to underlying medical conditions. Early identification is key to successful treatment.
We will share the most common signs & symptoms of oral cancer and tips on how to check for them.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers occur most frequently in the tongue, tonsils, and oropharynx (the part of the throat behind the mouth), gums, and floor of the mouth. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer so that you can get medical help as soon as possible if needed.
Some common signs of cancer in the oral cavity include:
- Persistent mouth sores that don’t heal
- Red or white patches in the mouth
- Swelling or lumps in the mouth, throat, or neck
- Difficulty or pain while swallowing or chewing
- Changes in voice or speech
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loose teeth
- Bad breath
- Pain or numbness in the mouth or lips
- Bleeding from the mouth or throat
- Ear pain
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should contact your dentist right away to schedule an oral cancer screening.
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
Oral cancer can occur in anyone, but there are several factors that increase your oral cancer risk. Although 80% of oral cancer cases occur in people over the age of 55, everyone should get regular oral cancer screenings to detect any early signs of the disease. If caught in its early stages, treatment may prevent serious complications later on.
Factors that increase your risk of mouth cancer:
- Tobacco use: Using tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco, greatly increases the risk of developing oral cancer.
- Heavy alcohol consumption: Heavy drinkers who consume large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time are at an increased risk of oral cancer, especially when combined with tobacco use.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: Certain strains of HPV are known to increase the risk of developing oral cancer.
- Excessive sun exposure: Prolonged exposure to the sun, particularly at a young age, can increase the risk of lip cancer.
- Age: The risk of developing oral cancer increases with age, with most cases occurring in people over the age of 50.
- Genetics: Certain genetic mutations may increase the risk of developing oral cancer.
- Gender: Men are at higher risk of developing oral cancer than women.
When you visit your dentist for a regular checkup, they’ll likely ask about your medical history and family history. If you have a family history of cancer or if you fall into one or more of these categories, your doctor may recommend that you get screenings more often than once a year.
How is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?
Oral cavity cancer is usually diagnosed through a combination of physical examination and diagnostic tests. During a physical exam, a doctor or dentist will examine your mouth, lips, tongue, throat, and neck for any abnormalities, such as lumps, bumps, or changes in color or texture. If any abnormal tissue is found, a biopsy may be taken to determine whether cancerous cells are present. During a biopsy, a small sample of tissue is removed from the affected area and examined under a microscope.
Imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans, may also be used to determine the size and location of the tumor and whether it has spread to other areas of the body.
Treatment Options for Oral Cancer
Oral cancer treatment depends on various factors, including the stage of the cancer, its location, and the patient’s overall health. Your health care provider may recommend a combination of treatments, including surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.
Surgery may be used to remove the tumor and surrounding tissue. This can be done in various ways, such as through a scalpel or laser. Your doctor may also recommend radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It may be used alone or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy, which involves using drugs to kill cancer cells.
Immunotherapy is another option, which is a type of treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells.
Preventing Oral Cancer
There’s no way to guarantee that you won’t get oral cancer, but there are many things you can do to significantly reduce your risk of getting the disease.
Quit smoking and tobacco use: Tobacco use is a major risk factor for oral cancer, so quitting smoking or using tobacco products is the most important step you can take to prevent oral cancer.
Limit alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol in moderation, or avoiding it altogether, can also reduce the risk of developing oral cancer.
Protect your lips from sun exposure: Wearing a lip balm with SPF protection or a wide-brimmed hat can help protect your lips from sun exposure, which is a risk factor for lip cancer.
- Practice good oral hygiene: Brushing and flossing regularly and seeing a dentist for routine dental exams that include an oral examination can help prevent oral cancer by catching any potential problems early.
Eat a healthy diet: A diet high in fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of oral cancer, as these foods contain antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage.
- Get vaccinated against HPV: The HPV vaccine can help prevent certain strains of the virus that are associated with an increased risk of oral cancer. Since we believe in freedom of choice whether to vaccinate or not, we support your decision that is right for you and your family.
Be aware of your risk factors: If you have any risk factors for oral cancer, such as a family history of the disease or a history of tobacco use, it’s important to be aware of these and discuss them with your healthcare provider. They may recommend additional screening or monitoring.
Schedule Your Oral Cancer Screening With Holistic Dental Center
Getting an oral cancer screening is an important part of taking care of your health. Holistic Dental Center provides all new patients with a comprehensive exam and hygiene checkup where our clinicians conduct an oral cancer screening. Our experienced dentists use the latest technology and advanced tools to detect this disease as early as possible. We strive to make the process fast, comfortable, and efficient so that you can get back to your life feeling healthier and more confident in your decision to get screened for oral cancer.