Oral Cancer: What You Need to Know

According to the National Cancer Institute, oral cancer is defined as the development of malignant cells that destroy healthy tissue in one or more areas of the mouth, including the tongue, cheeks, lips, sinuses, throat, the floor of the mouth and both the soft and hard palates. Oral cancer, if not treated in a timely manner, can lead to death.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Depending on the severity of the cancer, symptoms vary among sufferers. The most common symptoms include the following:

  • Lumps or thickening of the tissue in the cheeks, lips or other areas of the mouth or throat
  • Rough or crusty patches on or inside the lips that do not go away
  • Soft patches within the mouth that are red, white or a combination of both
  • Unusual bleeding anywhere within the oral cavity or sinuses
  • Unusual tingling, pain or loss of sensation in the mouth, face or throat
  • Sores in the mouth or on the neck that bleed or produce fluid and resist treatment for more than two weeks
  • Unexplained change in alignment of teeth or jaws
  • Persistent hoarseness that causes difficulty swallowing or talking
  • Unusual pain in the ears or back of the throat

While some of these symptoms may be indicative of a condition other than oral cancer, they should be taken seriously and reported to a dental or medical health professional as soon as possible.

Who is at Risk for Oral Cancer?

The American Cancer Society reports that men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer and that the highest risk affects men over 50. The most frequently observed risk factors for oral cancer include the following:

  • Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes
  • Chewing tobacco, dipping or using snuff
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Having at least one family member who was diagnosed with oral cancer
  • Failing to take proper precautions to protect against sun damage

Outlook for Patients Diagnosed with Oral Cancer

The one year survival rate for oral cancer patients is 81 percent while the five year survival rate is 56 percent. These statistics serve to provide further proof that early diagnosis is key to successful treatment and recovery. Individuals who visit their dentist regularly for routine exams are in a better position to detect the early signs of oral cancer, such as irregularities within the mouth or unusual lumps in the throat.

During your exam, your dentist will perform an initial screening, checking for these and other symptoms of oral cancer. If the potential development of cancer is suspected, a biopsy may be ordered to determine whether or not harmful cells are present. If tests are positive, a treatment plan will be formulated immediately in order to prevent the further development and spread of cancerous cells.

Treatment of Oral Cancer

Treatment varies depending on the stage and location of the cancerous tissue. Health care professionals who treat patients with oral cancer include head and neck surgeons, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, otolaryngologists, speech pathologists, radiologists and nutritionists. Your oral surgeon will formulate a treatment plan and refer you through the proper channels that address all problems associated with oral cancer.

For additional information concerning oral cancer, diagnosis and treatment, contact an experienced oral and maxillofacial surgeon today.

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