Oral cancer appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not go away. Oral cancer includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx [throat]. It can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.
When it is caught early, oral cancer is much easier for doctors to treat.
The dentist may be able to spot any signs at an early stage.
What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
The most common symptoms of oral cancer include:
In the early stages, there are often no signs or symptoms of oral cancer.
Swellings/thickenings, lumps or bumps, rough spots/crusts/or eroded areas on the lips, gums, cheek, or other areas inside the mouth.
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.
Swelling or pain in your jaw. If you wear dentures, they might be uncomfortable or hard to put in.
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.
Risk factors for the development of oral cancer include:
1. Smoking - Cigarette, cigar, or pipe smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop oral cancers.
2. Smokeless tobacco use - 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.
3. Excessive consumption of alcohol - Oral cancers are about six times more common in drinkers than in nondrinkers. Using alcohol and tobacco together increases your chances even more.
4. Family history of cancer.
5. Excessive sun exposure, especially at a young age. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause lip cancers.
6. Human papillomavirus (HPV) - Certain HPV strains are etiologic risk factors for Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC).
7. Age - Oral cancers can take years to grow. Most people find they have it after age 55. But younger men are getting cancers linked to HPV.
8. Gender - Men are at least twice as likely as women to get oral cancer. It could be because men drink and smoke more than women do.
9. Poor diet - Studies have found a link between oral cancer and not eating enough vegetables and fruits.
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.