Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, affects the mouth, throat, and areas of the head and neck. A recent study by the American Cancer Society reveals about 54,540 new cases of oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in the United States. Oral cancer typically affects individuals aged 60 or older. If left untreated, oral can spread throughout the month and throat to the head and neck areas.
So, it’s essential to make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you have persistent signs and symptoms of oral cancer. This blog discusses oral cancer, its signs and symptoms, and when to see a doctor.
Oral Cancer and Its Causes
Oral cancer is a potentially life-threatening disease that affects thousands of people worldwide. Also known as mouth cancer or oral cavity cancer, it refers to the abnormal growth of cells in the oral cavity. A tumor develops on the surface of the tongue, mouth, lips, or gums and can lead to significant health complications if left untreated. Therefore, early detection plays a vital role in successful treatment outcomes.
Moving to the causes of oral cancer, smoking, alcohol consumption, and human papillomavirus (HPV) infection are among the most common factors contributing to oral cancer development. Let’s discuss the causes in detail here.
About 75% of individuals who develop oral cancer have smoking habits or regularly consume alcohol. Chemicals in cigarettes or tobacco are carcinogenic. It means it can cause genetic changes in the mouth cells, leading to the formation of cancerous cells. On the other hand, heavy alcohol consumption irritates the oral tissue, and when consumed with tobacco, it increases the risk of developing oral cancer.
Another important fact is that 25% of individuals who develop oral cancer do not smoke or have other known risk factors.
HPV or the human papillomavirus is another cause of oral cancer in the younger population. It is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause infection in the oral mucosa and increase the risk of oral cancer. Apart from these, excessive sun exposure to the lips and mouth can cause oral cancer too.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
- Persistent mouth sores, red patches, or lumps in the mouth, lips, or throat that do not heal naturally within two weeks is a sign one may have oral cancer. So, to receive on-time treatment, an evaluation is a must for a healthcare professional.
- Unexplained bleeding without any specific cause can be a concern. Oral or mouth cancer leads to the formation of abnormal blood vessels, and it may cause bleeding from the mouth. One may notice bleeding even during regular activities like eating, brushing, or flossing.
- A sore throat that does not improve with time or even medications may indicate oral cancer. It can make eating, chewing, and swallowing food difficult. It may be due to tumors or growths affecting the muscles or tissues in the mouth.
- Patches inside the mouth that one cannot scrape out indicate oral cancer, but people often mistake this for common problems. For example, flat white or gray patches inside the mouth can be Leukoplakia, a precancerous condition. If the patches are red, you can term it Erythroplakia, and these patches even bleed when scraped.
- Mouth pain, ear pain, or pain in the neck can indicate oral or mouth cancer. This pain is persistent and often unresponsive to over-the-counter medications.
- Changes in teeth alignment or loose teeth may also indicate mouth cancer, and if you notice any such signs, you should not consult a dentist or doctor.
Consult a healthcare provider if you have any of these persistent signs and symptoms for two weeks. Your healthcare provider will examine your mouth and refer to a few preliminary tests before starting your treatment.
How to Reduce the Risk of Oral Cancer?
Although not all cases of oral cancer are preventable, there are several steps individuals can take to reduce their risk:
- Quitting smoking and avoiding all forms of tobacco can significantly reduce the risk of developing oral cancer.
- Limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks per day or one drink per day can prevent oral cancer.
- Reducing the risk of oral cancer from an HPV infection can be achieved by practicing safe sexual intercourse and getting vaccinated against HPV.
- Routine dental checkups and oral cancer screenings can aid in early detection. Dentists can identify unusual growths or symptoms and refer patients for further evaluation.
- Adopting a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and essential nutrients that support overall health may help reduce the risk of oral cancer.
Regular examinations of the mouth and dental checkups can help identify any unusual changes and initiate timely interventions. If you notice signs and symptoms of oral cancer or experience persistent oral discomfort, visit Nextcare Dental for a comprehensive evaluation. Our dentists will evaluate your oral health and suggest the right treatments to help manage your oral cancer condition.