Mouth or oral cancer is a type of head and neck cancer. It refers to the uncontrollable growth of cells in the tongue, cheeks, lips, palates, throat and sinuses. Annually, about 34,000 Americans are diagnosed with this type of cancer. Patients diagnosed with mouth cancer have an 85 percent survival rate during the first year.
The first crucial step toward oral cancer prevention is knowing and understanding the facts surrounding it including risk factors, symptoms and available treatments. Here’s a brief glance at each.
Oral cancer symptoms
During the initial stages of mouth cancer, the symptoms do not immediately manifest themselves. Dentists, on the other hand, can immediately detect some of the signs of oral cancer. What are these symptoms?
- Mouth ulcers and sores that linger
- Swelling in the mouth that last for more than three weeks
- Reddish/whitish patches in the mouth or tongue
- Lumps found in the tongue or mouth lining
- Painful swallowing
- Loosening of teeth
- Jaw pain and stiffness
- Sore throat
- Persistent neck pain
- Ear pain
- Weight loss
- Improper fit of dentures
Who’s at risk?
The American Cancer Society reports that men are twice as likely to contract mouth cancer as compared to women. This risk increases for people who smoke cigarettes and cigars, people who chew tobacco, heavy drinkers, people with a history of cancer in the family, and those who have been excessively exposed to the sun at a young age. However, it is worthwhile to mention that 25 percent of oral cancer occurs among non-smokers and light alcohol drinkers.
Other people who are at high risk of getting oral cancer are those who consume a large amount of red meat and processed food, those who have reflux disease, people who have HPV infection, and persons who have previously undergone radiation treatment.
Diagnosing mouth cancer
Dentists and general practitioners are fully equipped and trained to conduct a diagnosis for oral cancer. For reputable dentists, oral cancer screening is a vital part of the dental exam they offer. Your dentist will look for unusual lumps and changes in the neck, head and mouth.
Should your dentist or GP suspect that you have oral cancer, you may be referred to specialists like oncologists or ENTs for further testing who will conduct a biopsy.
If the biopsy confirms the presence of mouth cancer, the next order of business would be determining the stage of the cancer. For this goal, your specialist may conduct endoscopy, x-rays, CT, MRI and PET scans. Determining the stage of the cancer will enable the health care professionals to develop the appropriate treatment methods.
Apart from quitting smoking and chewing tobacco and limiting alcohol, it is worthwhile to modify one’s diet into one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and healthy oils. Excessive sun exposure should be avoided. It would also be helpful to visit the dentist regularly to quickly identify symptoms of cancer and remedy the problem before it gets worse.