According to reports, there is at least one death every hour attributable to oral cancer. Because the mouth is primarily closed and damp, it is a fantastic place for infections to fester and cancer to take hold.
Oral (mouth) cancer can occur on the lips, tongue, gums, insides of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth and under the tongue. Oral cancer falls under the umbrella category of head and neck cancers, which are particularly dangerous due to its proximity to the brain.
Signs & Symptoms of Oral Cancer
The signs of oral cancer can be anything from an ulcer in the mouth that won’t heal, a white or reddish patch anywhere inside the oral cavity, loose teeth or bleeding gums, a growth or lump inside the mouth that doesn’t go away, pain in one or both ears, and difficulty or pain when swallowing.
Who Is Susceptible to Oral Cancer?
Oral cancers develop when mutations at the cellular level occur in mouth tissue. These cellular mutations then continue to grow and can accumulate into tumors. Oral cancer tumors can spread within the mouth, as well to other parts of the body.
While it is unclear what causes the cell mutations that lead to oral cancer, there are several well-known risk factors that can increase your chances of developing oral cancer.
Tobacco use (whether inhaled or chewed) is one of the biggest risk factors. Likewise, chronic alcohol use can continuously irritate the cells within the mouth, potentially triggering cellular mutations and oral cancer. A compromised immune system or excessive exposure to sun can also contribute to the development of oral cancer.
Diagnosis of Oral Cancer
Your dentist will examine your mouth for any signs of developing problems. If any are found, he may take a biopsy to send to a lab for further testing where they will be analyzed for cancer or precancerous conditions.
Treating Oral Cancer
Treatment will depend on the stage and location of cancer in the mouth, although it usually requires surgical extraction. Your dentist may cut away a small sized tumor but larger tumors or cancer that is spreading may require more intensive surgery to remove part of the jawbone or tongue. If cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, those tissue may need to be biopsied as well. In some cases, reconstructive surgery may be needed and may include skin grafts, muscle or bone transplants, and/or dental implants to take the place of any lost teeth.
It is important to visit your dentist regularly, not only to check on the condition of your teeth but to look for any signs of oral cancer, too.