Mouth cancer, or oral cancer, can occur anywhere in the mouth, on the surface of the tongue, the lips, inside the cheek, in the gums, in the roof and floor of the mouth, in the tonsils, and in the salivary glands.It is a type of head and neck cancer and is often treated similarly to other head and neck cancers.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 48,330 Americans were expected to receive a diagnosis of oral or pharyngeal cancer in 2016, and about 9,570 deaths were predicted. Mouth cancer mostly happens after the age of 40, and the risk is more than twice as high in men as it is in women.
What Are the Causes of Oral Cancer?
Cancer results when a genetic mutation instructs cells to grow without control. Untreated, metastatic oral cancer will start in one part of the mouth, then spread to other parts of the mouth, to the head and neck, and the rest of the body. Mouth cancers typically start in the squamous cells that line the lips and the inside of the mouth. This is called squamous cell carcinoma.
The exact cause of the mutations is unknown, but there is evidence that certain risk factors increase the chance of mouth cancer developing.
What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
The most common symptoms of metastatic 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 careprofessional immediately.
How is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?
Tests and procedures used to diagnose mouth cancer include:
Physical exam. Your doctor or dentist will examine your lips and mouth to look for abnormalities — areas of irritation, such as sores and white patches (leukoplakia).
Removal of tissue for testing. If a suspicious area is found, your doctor or dentist may remove a sample of cells for laboratory testing in a procedure called a biopsy. Unusual cells can be removed using different techniques, but are most often cut away using a scalpel, scissors or another surgical tool. In the laboratory, the cells are analyzed for cancer or precancerous changes that indicate a risk of future cancer.