12 Warning Signs And Symptoms Of Oral Cancer And How To Prevent It

Date February 20, 2018

Oral cancer (also called mouth cancer) refers to cancers that start in the oral cavity. The disease can affect the lips, gums, tongue, inner lining of the cheeks, roof of the mouth (palate), floor of the mouth, and pharynx (throat). It’s estimated that about 50.000 Americans were affected by the disease in 2017.

The major risk factor known to cause oral cancer is smoking and other uses of tobacco. The disease has high chances of being cured if detected early. Treatment of oral cancer is much the same as that used for other types of head and neck cancers and may involve surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.

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Symptoms of oral cancer

Oral cancer can show a variety of symptoms. They may include the following:

  • mouth sores that don’t heal;
  • white and/or red patches on the lips or inside the mouth;
  • lumps or thickened areas in the lips or inside the mouth;
  • a feeling that something is stuck in the throat;
  • oral pain;
  • ear pain;
  • dentures don’t fit properly;
  • loose teeth;
  • difficult or painful swallowing and chewing;
  • numbness of the tongue or other areas in the mouth;
  • bad breath (halitosis);
  • swelling of the salivary glands.

If you have symptoms described above, see your doctor as soon as possible. They don’t always indicate the presence of oral cancer (e.g. some of these symptoms are a sign of stomatitis), but they need to be checked by a professional anyway.

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Risk factors for developing oral cancer

The number one factor that increases the risk of the disease is use of tobacco, including smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipe, chewing tobacco, and using snuff. Other factors that put you at a higher risk of oral cancer include the following:

  • heavy drinking;
  • being infected with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) - being infected with the virus also greatly increases the risk of cervical cancer;
  • excess exposure to the sun and use of tanning beds;
  • a compromised immune system;
  • a family history of oral cancer and other cancers;
  • gender – men are at a higher risk of oral cancer than women are;
  • older age – the average age of those diagnosed with oral cancer is 62.

Some people who get oral cancer have no known risk factors.

Prevention and early detection of oral cancer

You can take particular steps to lower your risk of oral cancer and detect it early if it does develop. Here’s what you can do:

  • don’t smoke or use tobacco of any kind;
  • drink less alcohol (limit yourself to one drink a day if you’re a woman and two drinks a day if you’re a man)
  • eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables;
  • protect your skin when out in the sun by applying sunscreen and lip balm that provides UV protection (it can also help prevent melanoma);
  • don’t skip your regular dental exams, as your dentist can detect changes that indicate oral cancer;
  • if you notice any suspicious lesions in your mouth or on your lips, see your doctor.

Source: Mayo Clinic, HealthLine, WebMD

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This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.