Oral cancer can occur on any part of the mouth including the lips, tongue, and throat. It can also occur on the salivary glands, pharynx, larynx, and sinuses. Fortunately, If the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the overall 5-year survival rate is 84%. Early detection of oral cancer is crucial to successful treatment. Even if you aren’t a traditional high-risk candidate, it’s still important to learn all you can about the causes and signs of this disease.

Causes of Oral Cancer

No one really knows the exact cause of oral cancer but there are some factors that can put a person at greater risk. Studies have found that 90% of all people with oral cancer consume some form of tobacco. Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco all increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer. Consuming large amounts of alcohol may also increase the chance of oral cancer. This is because alcohol irritates the cells of the mouth. Adult males under age 65 should not consume more than 2 alcoholic beverages per day and adult women of all ages and men over 65 should not consume more than 1 alcoholic beverage per day. Consuming a combination of alcohol and tobacco products puts you at the highest risk for oral cancer. Spending too much time in the sun can increase the chance of oral cancer on the lips. Make sure to protect your face and lips from sun exposure. Wear a wide brimmed hat and use a high quality sunscreen lip product.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Symptoms of oral cancer vary from person to person. While some signs are obvious, others might be harder to spot. During your regular dental checkup, your dentist will examine your entire mouth for signs of cancer. Make sure to visit your dentist every six months to ensure early diagnosis and treatment. Discuss any concerns you have with your dentist. In addition to regular dental visits, you should make a dental appointment if you experience any of the following symptoms:

 Mouth sores that don’t heal

 White patches inside the mouth

 Red patches inside the mouth

 Difficulty swallowing

 Difficulty moving the tongue or jaw (chewing difficulties)

 Persistent mouth pain

 Lump or thickening in the cheek or neck

 Numbness of the tongue or mouth

 Swelling of the jaw

 Loose teeth

 Voice changes

 Weight loss

 Bad breath

It’s important to note that many of the symptoms listed above accompany other dental problems or conditions as well. Only a dentist or doctor can tell you if what you’re experiencing could be related to oral cancer.

Oral Cancer Treatment

Every six months, your dentist will perform an oral cancer screening. These screenings are quick and painless and involve a thorough examination of the lips, tongue, and face. During this important examination, your dentist will look for anything out of the ordinary such as sores, white patches, and swellings that spread beyond your mouth. A dentist that suspects possible oral cancer will likely recommend a biopsy. This important test can help determine whether cancer is present. Treatment will begin quickly, typically as soon as a positive diagnosis is received. Treatment generally includes surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy.

Preventing Oral Cancer

Although it might not be possible to prevent oral cancer altogether, you can reduce your risk. Avoiding alcohol and tobacco products and using appropriate sun protection is an excellent place to start. Proper oral hygiene including brushing with a high quality dental gel, flossing, and regular dental checkups can help you catch potential problems sooner when they are easier to treat.