Oral cancer is cancers originating in or around the mouth and throat. People of all ages are at risk, including non-smokers. Because oral cancer can pose little to no symptoms, one must receive an oral cancer screening from catching this potentially-deadly condition as soon as possible. The American Cancer Society estimates 50,000 new oral or oropharyngeal cases a year, and nearly 10,000 die from the disease. The World Cancer Research Fund International usually lists oral cancer as one of the top 20 most common cancers. However, if caught early, optimal treatment can ensure a speedy recovery with few, if any, complications.
Who is at Risk for Oral Cancer?
Like any other cancers, everyone is susceptible to developing oral cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of people diagnosed with oral cancer is 62. Although rare in children, about one-quarter of total mouth cancer patients are younger than 55.
The risk of developing oral cancer is twice as likely in men than women. But other factors increase the likelihood of developing cancer, such as smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, chewing tobacco, family history of cancer, excessive sun exposure, and human papillomavirus (HPV). However, over 25 percent of all oral cancers affect people who do not smoke and occasionally drink alcohol.
Oral Cancer Screenings
Diagnosis of oral cancer is usually part of a routine dental exam with your dentist. They will look and feel an indication of lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, face, and oral cavity. If something looks suspicious, your dentist will order a biopsy.
An oral cancer screening is a quick and painless process. One has nothing to lose when opting for this screening.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Symptoms vary from individual to individual, mainly depending on the type of cancer and how long it has progressed.
Many may not even know they have oral cancer until early detection equipment indicates cancer cells are present.
However, some do notice symptoms before getting a diagnosis. Some symptoms may include:
- Oral sores that get worse and won’t go away
- Difficulty swallowing or chewing
- Abnormal lumps in/around the mouth or neck
- A lump-in-throat sensation that’s persistent or worsening with time
- Tongue numbness or pain that persists
- A consistent sore throat
- Irregular patches in the mouth (often red or white)
- Hoarseness in a voice that won’t go away
- Loose and or lost teeth
- General pain in mouth or throat
If you observe any of these indications, it is wise to contact your dentist and schedule an appointment to ensure everything is healthy.
Although your oral symptoms may not be linked to cancer, an oral cancer screening only takes a few minutes and provides ease-of-mind. Nevertheless, other causes for your oral-related symptoms can be appropriately diagnosed and treated by a dental professional.
Different Types of Oral Cancers
Erythroplakia: Red lesions in and around the mouth that tend to bleed if scraped. Often precancerous, they can develop into other cancers. A quarter of cases are already cancerous.
Leukoplakia: White lesions in or around the mouth that tend to bleed if scraped. Often precancerous, they can develop into other cancers. A quarter of cases are already cancerous.
Lymphoma: A type of oral cancer that develops in the lymph tissue and often causes enlarged lymph nodes.
Salivary gland carcinomas: Includes several subcategories of oral cancers that develop in minor salivary glands in the mouth and throat.
Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of oral cancer accounts for more than 90 percent of oral cancer. It consists of cancer cells that are flat and scale-like in the arrangement and usually found in the mouth and throat.
Verrucous carcinoma: Slow-growing cancer found in about 5 percent of oral cancer patients that is rare to spread to other areas of the body.
Non-Cancerous Oral Concerns
Overall, oral screenings are essential to search for, diagnose, and or treat cancer before it begins, worsens, and takes over other parts of the body. Non-cancerous tumors that develop in the mouth and throat areas need to be surgically removed to reduce the chances of cancer from developing
Ways to reduce oral cancer risks include minimal alcohol intake, a healthy diet, limited tobacco usage, and sun exposure in moderation. Age, HPV infections, level of moral standing, and immunosuppression account for greater oral cancer risk.
How is Oral Cancer Treated?
Treatment for oral cancer includes surgery to eliminate cancerous growth and radiation therapy and chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Reduce the Risk of Oral Cancer
To reduce the chance of acquiring oral cancer, avoid smoking, and drink alcohol in moderation. A well-balanced diet will also help keep your body healthy.
Also, limit your sun exposure as much as possible, as repeated exposure increases cancer risk on the lip.
You can also conduct a self-examination at least once a month using a bright light and mirror to observe and feel your lips and front of your gums. Examine all surfaces and feel for any unusual lumps in your oral cavity.
A routine checkup with your dentist is vital in detecting any symptoms that may appear, so ensure to schedule appointments at least twice a year. Regular checkups will enable the early detection of dental issues and oral cancer.