Oral cancer — which includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheek, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and throat — can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early.
Because changes in the mouth can be easily seen, oral cancer can be detected in its early stages. The following symptoms should be monitored closely:
- A sore, lump, rough spot or thick patch anywhere in the mouth, throat or on the lips
- A sore that doesn’t heal or bleeds easily
- Change in color of your oral tissues
- Pain or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
- Change in the way your teeth fit together
- Swollen jaw
- Significant weight loss
While these symptoms may indicate less serious health issues, it is important to visit Aesthetic & Reconstructive Associates if you experience any of them for more than a few weeks.
According to the American Cancer Society, men face twice the risk of developing oral cancer as women, and men who are over age 50 face the greatest risk. Risk factors include:
- Tobacco use. Smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to develop oral cancers; and use of smokeless tobacco increases the risk of cancers of the cheek, gums and lining of the lips
- Excessive consumption of alcohol. Oral cancers are approximately six times more prevalent in drinkers than in non-drinkers
- Family history of cancer
- Excessive exposure to the sun
While these risk factors are often associated with oral cancer, many people who have no known risk factors also develop oral cancer and should still take preventative measures.
You can take an active role in preventing and detecting oral cancer.
- Avoid tobacco products
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Limit sun exposure and wear protective lotions, remembering to apply it to the lips
- Conduct a self-exam at least once a month
- Visit your dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings. The American Cancer Society recommends oral cancer screening exams every three years for people over age 20 and annually for those over age 40
Remember, spots and sores in your mouth aren’t always cancerous, but should be examined and monitored closely. Contact your dentist immediately if you notice any changes in the appearance of your oral tissues or experience symptoms mentioned above. As with most cancers, early identification is the key to successful treatment.