Oral cancer is defined as uncontrolled cell growth that can invade other tissues of the mouth causing damage. It is estimated that in 2020 about 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer. This means early detection and screening is key.
Oral Cancer Symptoms
The most common signs of oral cancer include:
- Swellings/thickenings, lumps or bumps, rough spots/crusts/or eroded areas on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth
- The development of velvety white, red, or speckled (white and red) patches in the mouth
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Unexplained numbness, loss of feeling, or pain/tenderness in any area of the face, mouth, or neck
- Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within 2 weeks
- A soreness or feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
- Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or change in voice
- Ear pain
- A change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together
- Dramatic weight loss
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
According to the American Cancer Society, men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer. Men over the age of 50 tend to have the highest risk of developing oral cancers. The most common risk factors associated with oral cancer include:
- Smoking: Cigarette, Cigar, or pipe smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop oral cancers.
- Smokeless tobacco users: Users of dip, snuff, or chewing tobacco products are 50 times more likely to develop cancers of the cheek, gums, and lining of the lips.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol: Oral cancers are about six times more common in drinkers than in nondrinkers.
- Having a family history of cancer.
- Excessive sun exposure, especially at a young age.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): Certain HPV strains are etiologic risk factors for Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC).
How Do We Detect Oral Cancer
The most typical way we detect oral cancer is with an oral cancer screening. This involves taking a thorough medical and social history to determine your risk factors for oral cancer. We will also do a visual exam in the mouth looking for unusual tissue changes. We will also do an extraoral head and neck exam to feel for any unusual masses in the neck and jaws. At our office, we also use a device called an Oral ID. It is a specialized light that causes normal tissue to glow and abnormal tissues to show as a dark or black spot. This lets us find any areas of abnormal cell growth at an extremely early stage, even before it is visible to the naked eye. If we do happen to find anything unusual we will refer you to one of our trusted oral surgeons or periodontists for a biopsy to determine if further treatment is needed. As with any cancer, the earlier we can detect it the better your treatment outcome is, and we make sure to use the latest in screening technology in our office.