woman breaking cigarette in half to help prevent oral cancer

Few patients are familiar with the symptoms, risk factors, and prevention measures related to oral cancer, yet thousands of Americans are diagnosed each year. When diagnosed early, the treatability and prognosis of oral cancers improve significantly, making early detection key.

Inform yourself with the facts about oral cancer. Early detection may result in better treatment outcomes and can help keep you or someone you love from becoming one of the 10,030 people whose lives may be claimed this year by the disease.

What Is Oral Cancer?

Similar to other types of cancers, oral cancer is characterized by cells growing uncontrollably and subsequently damaging the surrounding tissues. Oral cancer is not limited strictly to the inside of the mouth. Oral cancer can also include cancers of the tongue, palate, throat, and the floor of the mouth. This type of cancer can also be found in the sinuses, lips, and cheeks.

Symptoms To Watch For

There are a wide variety of symptoms of oral cancer. While each case of oral cancer is unique, some of the most common symptoms include:

Mouth sores. Cancerous mouth sores and growths are different from other common sores that can form in and around the mouth. Different from a canker sore or a cold sore, mouth sores from oral cancer do not go away with time.

Bleeding. While bleeding gums are often thought of as a sign of periodontal disease, unexplained bleeding in the mouth can also be a symptom of certain types of oral cancers. Any abnormal or extensive bleeding of the gums should be discussed with your dentist.

Numbness. A loss of feeling in the mouth, face, or neck area can be indicative of a severe health issue, including being a sign of oral cancer. Persistent pain or tenderness in these areas should be addressed with your dentist or doctor.

Difficulty swallowing. Feeling as if swallowing food has suddenly become more difficult when eating can be a sign of oral cancer. Additionally, experiencing difficulty when talking or moving your tongue are also red flags that should be examined by a professional.

Sore throat. Chronic sore throat with persistent hoarseness or a sudden change in the sound of your voice should be a cause for concern. While everyone experiences a sore throat from time to time, a check-up with your health-care provider should be scheduled to rule out any significant health risks.

Patches. Growths and sores are not the only abnormalities you should check for inside your mouth. Often white or red in color, these patches can also indicate oral cancer. Your dentist should also examine any dry, rough areas on the lips or gums.

Risk Factors

While anyone can get oral cancer, certain individuals are more at risk. Some of the most common risk factors that increase your chances of developing oral cancer are:

  • Smoking –  Smokers,  including those who smoke cigarettes, pipes, and cigars, are drastically more likely to develop oral cancer than their smoke-free counterparts.
  • Tobacco products – Cigarettes aren’t the only product containing tobacco that pose an oral cancer risk. Those who use smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco or dip, also have a significantly elevated risk of developing oral cancers.
  • Alcohol consumption – People who drink alcohol in excess face an increased risk of oral cancer.
  • Genetics – A family history of cancer might also result in an increased likelihood of developing oral cancers.
  • Sun exposure – Excessive exposure to the sun, and particularly exposure that occurred at a young age, is considered a risk factor for oral cancers.

How Your Dentist Can Help Detect Oral Cancer Early

During your regular exam, your dentist will discuss changes in your medical history and whether you have been experiencing any new or unusual symptoms. Your dentist will then check your oral cavity, including your lips, cheek lining, gums and the front part of your tongue, as well as the floor and roof of your mouth. Feeling for any lumps or abnormalities in your jaw and neck will help your dentist discover any potential issues.

What Happens if Your Dentist Finds Something Suspicious

Your dentist won’t be able to tell right away if what he or she is looking at is cancerous. So you will likely be referred to a specialist for further testing. Your dentist may also want to re-examine you a week or two later to see if the questionable spots are healing on their own before recommending additional follow-up. Together, you and your dentist can create a plan of action, and the most important thing to remember is to stay calm.

Have you been screened for oral cancer? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Aubrey Baudean DDS to be examined for any signs and symptoms of oral cancer.