Oral Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Oral cancer is cancer that occurs on the lips (usually the lower lip), inside the mouth, on the back of the throat, the tonsils or salivary glands. It occurs more frequently in men than women, and most likely to strike people over 40. Smoking in combination with heavy alcohol use is a key risk factor.
If not detected early, oral cancer can require surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. It can also be fatal, with an overall five-year survival rate of approximately 50 percent. Part of the reason for this poor prognosis is a failure to recognize the early symptoms, so detecting oral cancer early is the key to successful treatment.
You wont always be able to spot the earliest warning signs of oral cancer, which is why regular check-ups with both your dentist and physician are so important. Your dentist is trained to detect early warning signs of oral cancer. However, in addition to check-ups, you should see your dentist if you do notice any of the following
A sore on the lips, gums, or inside of your mouth that bleeds easily and doesnt heal
A lump or thickening in the cheek that you can feel with your tongue
Loss of feeling or numbness in any part of your mouth
White or red patches on the gums, tongue or inside of mouth
Difficulty chewing or swallowing food
Soreness or unexplained pain in your mouth, or feeling that something is caught in your throat with no known cause
Swelling of the jaw causing dentures to fit poorly
If you dont chew or smoke tobacco dont start. Tobacco use accounts for 80-90% of oral cancers. The link between smoking, lung cancer and heart disease is well established. Smoking also affects your general health, making it harder to fight infections and recover from injuries or surgery.
Your oral health is also at risk every time you light up. Smoking cigarettes, a pipe or a cigar greatly increases your chances of developing cancer of the larynx, mouth, throat and esophagus.
Chronic users of smokeless tobacco are 50 times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-users.
People who stop using tobacco, even after many years of use, greatly reduce their risk for oral cancer. Chronic and/or heavy use of alcohol also increases your risk of cancer, and alcohol combined with tobacco creates an especially high risk.
After a diagnosis has been made, a team of specialists (including an oral surgeon and dentist) develops a treatment plan to fit each patients needs. Surgery is usually required, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. Its important to see a dentist whos familiar with the changes these therapies may cause in the mouth.