Cancer is defined as the uncontrollable growth of cells that invade and cause damage to surrounding tissue. Oral cancer appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not go away. Oral cancer, which includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat), can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.
What are the warning signs of Oral Cancer?
- 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
- Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within 2 weeks
If you notice any of these changes, contact your dentist or health care professional immediately.
Risk factors for the development of oral cancer include:
- Smoking. Cigarette, cigar, or pipe smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop oral cancers.
- Smokeless tobacco users. Users of dip, snuff, or chewing tobacco products are 50 times more likely to develop cancers of the cheek, gums, and lining of the lips.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol. Oral cancers are about six times more common in drinkers than in nondrinkers.
- Family history of cancer.
- Excessive sun exposure, especially at a young age.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV). Certain HPV strains are etiologic risk factors for oral cancer.
How Is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?
As part of your routine dental exam, your dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening exam. More specifically, your dentist will feel for any lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, face, and oral cavity. When examining your mouth, your dentist will look for any sores or discolored tissue as well as check for any signs and symptoms mentioned above.
A biopsy may be needed if any tissue in your mouth looks suspicious. This test is painless and involves taking a small sample of the tissue and analyzing it for abnormal cells. This procedure usually requires only local anesthesia. These tests are necessary to detect oral cancer early, before it has had a chance to progress and spread.
How Is Oral Cancer Treated?
Oral cancer is treated with surgery to remove the cancerous growth, followed by radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy (drug treatments) to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
What Can I Do to Prevent Oral Cancer?
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol consumption as far as possible.
- Eat a well balanced diet.
- When in the sun, use UV-A/B-blocking sun protective lotions on your skin, as well as your lips.
You can take an active role in detecting oral cancer early, should it occur, by doing the following:
- Conduct a self exam at least once a month. Using a bright light and a mirror, look and feel your mouth & lips. Visit an OMF Surgeon immediately if you notice any changes in the appearance of your mouth or any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above.
- See your dentist on a regular schedule. Early detection can improve the chance of successful treatment.