Detecting and Preventing Oral Cancer

There are more than 28,000 cases of oral cancer diagnosed every year in the United States. Oral cancer is one of the most common cancers and may occur on the mouth, lips, tongue, gums, salivary glands and throat. It is important to take every precaution available to avoid oral cancer. With help from your dentist, you can take the necessary preventive steps.

What are the causes of oral caner?

The most typical cause of oral cancer is smoking. In fact, smokers are up to six times more likely to develop cancer of the mouth. Similarly, those who use smokeless tobacco such as snuff are at an even greater risk of developing oral cancer in the lining of the lips and the gums. Alcohol can also increase your risk of developing oral cancer and so can excessive exposure to sunlight at a young age. You are also at an increased risk of developing cancer if it runs in your family because there is a strong genetic factor involved.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Majority of patients with oral cancer commonly experience swelling and lumps inside their mouth or on the lips and gums. These may also appear as crusts, eroded patches and rough spots. Bleeding may occur for no reason and red or white patches in your mouth may develop.

Frequently, a loss in sensitivity is experienced in your mouth, face or neck and sores appear in similar areas as well. The sores bleed often and remain present for an extended period of time. Oral cancer may often begin with an asymptomatic stage during which symptoms may not be obvious and is often painless initially making it difficult to detect. Some of the signs of oral cancer include:

  • Continuous pain in the mouth
  • Sores and bumps inside the mouth, including ragged, ulcerous lesions
  • Difficulty swallowing and chewing
  • Difficulty moving the mouth and jaw
  • Soreness in the throat
  • Bump in the neck
  • Pronounced pain in one ear
  • Undiagnosed bleeding from the tongue, gums or cheeks
  • Numbness in a specific area of the mouth or jaw

These signs do not necessarily signify cancer; they may be associated with early signs of cancer. Since oral cancer treatment is usually successful when performed in the early stages, any abnormal change in the mouth, gums, tongue or surrounding area should be evaluated by a dental professional immediately.

Since symptoms associated with oral cancer may be confused with other medical conditions, self-examinations should not replace seeing a dentist for oral care maintenance at least twice a year. When used in conjunction, periodic self-examination and regular dental hygiene visits can help promote early-stage detection of oral cancer.