Oral cancer is cancer that develops in the tissues of the mouth or throat. It belongs to a larger group of cancers called head and neck cancers. Most develop in the squamous cells found in your mouth, tongue, and lips.
More than 49,000 cases of metastatic oral cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, occurring most often in people over 40 years old. Oral cancers are most often discovered after they’ve spread to the lymph nodes of the neck. Early detection is key to surviving oral cancer. Learn about what raises your risk, its stages, and more.
The following are the most common symptoms of oral cancer:
- A sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal
- A lump on the lip or in the mouth
- A lump in the neck
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth
- Unusual bleeding, pain or numbness in the mouth
- Oral pain
- Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing
- Difficulty with jaw opening
- Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
- Tooth loosening
- Bad breath
- Sensory loss of the face
One of the biggest risk factors for oral cancer is tobacco use. This includes smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, as well as chewing tobacco.
People who consume large amounts of alcohol and tobacco are at an even greater risk, especially when both products are used on a regular basis.
Other risk factors include:
- human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- chronic facial sun exposure
- a previous diagnosis of metastatic oral cancer
- a family history of oral or other types of cancer
- a weakened immune system
- poor nutrition
- genetic syndromes
- being male
- Men are twice as likely to get metastatic oral cancer as women are.
- Types of oral cancers
- Oral cancers include cancers of the:
- inner lining of the cheek
- floor of the mouth
- hard and soft palate
Your dentist is often the first healthcare provider to notice signs of oral cancer. Getting biannual dental checkups can keep your dentist up to date on the health of your mouth.
Treatment and Prevention
By quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake, many oral cancers can be prevented. Staying out of the sun also decreases the risk of lip cancer.
Treatment for oral and lip cancers depends on how far the cancer has spread and on individual needs. Treatment may include radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy – either separately or in combination.
after surgery, or to relieve pain for people with advanced oral cancer. The side effects will depend on the area that is receiving the radiation. Some general side effects include feeling tired, skin redness, and mouth irritation. Radiation can also cause dry mouth, which can last a long time. Since radiation can cause dental problems, any existing dental problems are always treated and given enough time to properly heal before radiation therapy is underway.
If the cancer is removed before it has spread to the lymph nodes, the cure rate is much higher. Surgery is also used to remove lymph nodes and to reconstruct areas of the mouth or face after the cancer has been removed.