Did you know that in 2022, there will be approximately 54,000 new cases of oral cancer in the US? Oral cancer is more common in men and typically affects people over 60, but it can occur at any age.
However, oral cancer can be challenging to detect, and many people dismiss their symptoms as something else. If you’re experiencing ongoing symptoms with your mouth, like a sore or trouble chewing, then it’s essential to learn about the signs of oral cancer.
This way, you can get an evaluation as soon as possible. Early detection of oral cancer is crucial, and educating yourself is the best way to catch it early.
In this guide, you’ll learn what you need to know about the signs of oral cancer and diagnosis and treatment options.
Overview of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer, or mouth cancer, is cancer that begins in the cells of the mouth. Oral cancer can affect any part of your mouth, such as:
- The roof of the mouth
- The floor of the mouth
- The first part of the tongue
- Back of the throat and tonsils
Oral cancer typically begins as a sore or white patch in the mouth or on your lips. However, with oral cancer, the sore doesn’t heal.
If oral cancer is left untreated, it can spread throughout your mouth and throat and eventually to other areas of your body, like your head and neck.
Causes of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer occurs when cells in the mouth or lips have changes or mutations in their DNA. These mutations cause the cells to keep growing instead of dying, as healthy cells would do.
It’s not completely clear what causes these mutations to occur, but certain habits like smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco can increase your risks.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol regularly and spending time in the sun without sunblock on your lips can also increase your risks.
Finally, having human papillomavirus (HPV) and a family history of oral cancer can contribute to your risks.
Signs of Oral Cancer
It’s essential to realize that oral cancer has signs and symptoms often mistaken for other problems, like a canker sore, toothache, or a cold. Common symptoms of oral cancer include:
- Constant and persistent mouth pain
- Thickening or lump in the cheek
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Difficulty moving the tongue or jaw
- A red or white patch on the gums or tongue
- Red or white patches on the roof of the mouth or floor of the mouth
- A constant sore throat or feeling something is caught in the throat
- Numbness of the tongue or areas of the mouth
- Jaw pain and swelling
Many people experience dental symptoms like tooth pain, loose teeth, or dentures fitting poorly. Some people also experience bad breath.
Finally, weight loss and voice changes can occur. If you experience symptoms lasting for several weeks to a month, see a doctor, dentist, or an experienced oral surgeon.
Oral Cancer Diagnosis
Dentists screen for oral cancer at your regular checkups. If you see your dentist regularly, your dentist can detect abnormalities and refer you to an oral surgeon for an evaluation.
Your oral surgeon will thoroughly examine the inside of your mouth and will typically feel your mouth for lumps or any other abnormalities. They’ll also examine your neck, face, and head for any signs of potential cancer.
If they confirm there is a suspicious area, they’ll take a biopsy of the tissue. You can have different types of biopsies, like a brush biopsy or incisional biopsy.
A brush biopsy involves taking a small brush to gently scrape the area for cells. An incisional biopsy involves removing small pieces of tissue to get cells. These tissue samples are sent to a laboratory to be analyzed for cancer or precancerous changes.
You might need a laryngoscopy if problems are suspected at the base of your tongue or throat. During a laryngoscopy, your doctor will look at your throat using a small mirror with a long thin handle.
Oral Cancer Treatment
Oral cancer treatments depend on the type of oral cancer you have and whether it’s spread past your mouth and throat. Your general health and age also play a factor in the treatment you’ll have.
The main treatment options for oral cancer are chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Your doctor might also recommend other treatments like immunotherapy or targeted therapy.
Radiation involves using strong energy beams that kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing more. Typically, you’ll have radiation therapy along with other treatments.
Chemotherapy and Other Medications
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells, and immunotherapy uses your immune system to attack cancer cells. Targeted therapy uses drugs or substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without causing damage to your normal cells.
The type of surgery you’ll need depends on the tumor’s location. Your surgeon will discuss your options with you and form a plan.
The first type of surgery for oral cancer is primary tumor surgery. In this surgery, your surgeon will remove the tumor via your mouth or make an incision in your neck.
If you have oral cancer on your tongue, you may need a glossectomy to remove part of the tongue.
People might also need jaw surgery like a mandibulectomy, which removes oral cancer from the jawbone. In another surgery called a maxillectomy, a surgeon will remove part or all of the hard palate on the roof of your mouth.
Talk to an Oral Surgeon About Oral Cancer Today
If you’re experiencing any of these signs of oral cancer, it’s essential to have it evaluated as soon as possible.
If you’re looking for an experienced oral surgeon, you won’t have to look any further than Brown & Neuwirth Oral & Cosmetic Surgery Center. We offer a variety of services like oral cancer screenings and biopsies, jaw surgery, bone grafting, dental implants, and more.
We have oral surgeons in Morganton, NC, Statesville, NC, and Hickory, NC. Our experienced team is ready to help you. Make sure to contact us today to find your location and schedule a consultation.