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Oral cancer is a persistent growth or sore inside the mouth that is caused by an uncontrollable growth of cells that invade and cause damage. It will not go away on its own. It includes the following surrounding tissues:
- Hard and Soft Palate
- Floor of the Mouth
What are the Symptoms?
There are numerous symptoms associated with oral cancer. The most common ones are:
- Any lesions or swelling on the lips, gums, or other areas inside your mouth
- Unexplained oral bleeding
- Unexplained numbness, tenderness, or pain in any areas of the mouth, face or neck
- Persistent sores in the mouth or the neck and face that do not heal within two weeks.
- Red, white, or red and white speckled patches in your mouth
- A feeling that something is caught in the back of your throat
- Difficulty speaking, chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue or jaw
- Chronic sore throat, hoarseness, or change of voice
- A change in your teeth or the way your dentures fit together
- Large weight loss
If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to make an appointment with your dentist or primary care physician as soon as possible.
Who is at Risk?
It is estimated that over 40,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer each year. Men face twice the risk than women, and men over the age of 50 face the greatest risk of all.
Oral cancer risk factors include:
- Smoking. Whether you smoke cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe, you are six times more likely to contract oral cancer than nonsmokers.
- Using smokeless tobacco. Chewing tobacco, snuff, or dip makes you 50 times more likely to develop cancers of the lining of the lips, gums, or cheeks.
- Drinking a lot of alcohol. You are six times more likely to contract oral cancer than nondrinkers.
- Family history of cancer. If cancer runs in your family, then you are more genetically predisposed.
- Too much sun. If you have excessive exposure to the sun, especially when you are young, it increases your odds of contracting oral cancer.
- If you have been diagnosed with HPV (Human Papillomavirus), some strains put you at a higher risk for contracting oral cancer.
It is important to note, however, that 25% of diagnosed cases of oral cancer do occur in nonsmokers and social drinkers.
What Can You Do to Prevent a Diagnosis?
There are some things you can do to lower your risk, such as:
- Drink alcohol in moderation, and do not smoke or use any tobacco products.
- Maintain a well-balanced diet.
- Limit your exposure to the sun, and when you are out in the sun, apply UV-A/B sun blocking products on your skin and lips.
Early Detection is Key
The earlier you see any symptoms, the greater the chance of successful treatment. You can also take an active role in early detection by doing the following:
- Do a Self Exam Once per Month – Use a bright light and a mirror to examine all the surfaces of your mouth and lips. Feel for lumps and thoroughly look over every part of your mouth, throat, and gums. Check for enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. If you find anything suspicious, contact your health care professional immediately.
- See your Dentist Regularly – No matter how thorough, you can’t always see everything, so ask your dentist to conduct an exam at your next visit.
Remember, understanding what oral cancer is and how to detect it increases your chances of successful treatment.