A research document by the Indian Council of Medical Research indicates that over half of those who are ailing, survive from oral cancer after five years; therefore if this condition is caught early enough, the chances of successful treatment are high.
Dentists look for early signs of mouth cancer during regular checkup appointments, but it's also important for you to recognize these warning signals so you can bring them to the attention of your dentist right away.
Signs and Symptoms
Mouth cancer can occur anywhere in the mouth, including the lips, tongue and throat, as well as the salivary glands, pharynx, larynx and sinuses. And because early detection is crucial in overcoming this disease, you will want to visit your doctor immediately if any of the following symptoms persist for more than two weeks:
- Sores, swellings, lumps or thick patches anywhere in or around your mouth or throat
- Areas of red or white lesions in your mouth or lips
- The feeling of a lump or object stuck in your throat
- Swellings that make wearing dentures uncomfortable
- Numbness, pain or tenderness anywhere in your mouth, including your tongue
- Pain in one of your ears but without any loss of hearing
- Trouble moving your jaw or tongue, or problems with chewing, swallowing or speaking
- Loose teeth with no apparent dental cause
- Lingering sore throat or hoarseness
How It Occurs
Although the exact cause of oral cancer is unclear, there are certain lifestyle factors that can put someone at risk for this disease. Tobacco of any kind – cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco – increase your risk for oral cancer. In fact, as stated by the India Journal of Cancer "90% of oral cancer cases among Indian men are attributable to tobacco consumption. India has one of the highest rates of oral cancer in the world; accounting for one third of the total cancers and unfortunately this figures continue to rise." Heavy use of alcohol also increases a person's chances of developing oral cancer, and the NIDCR says your risk is even higher when using both tobacco and alcohol.
In addition to tobacco and alcohol, age and eating habits can influence your risk as well. Most oral cancers occur in people over the age of 40, and a diet that is deficient in fruits and vegetables can make it easier to contract. Keep in mind sun exposure can cause cancer on the lips. More recently, there has been a rise in a subset of oral cancers associated with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV 16).
Oral Cancer Screening and Treatment
Oral cancer examinations by your dentist are quick, painless and crucial to detecting it in its early stages. During physical exmaination the dentist may also palpate the neck and jaw area, and examine both the top and underside of your tongue. These oral cancer screenings should be done every six months. The National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research (NICPC) explains a procedure for oral self examination; you can examine your own mouth yourself by looking at their mouth with the help of a mirror in bright light, for early detection of oral cancers.
A dentist who suspects cancer will recommend a biopsy of the area, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research. With a positive diagnosis, surgery may be needed to treat the affected area, and often this surgery is followed by radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
Your Best Option
When in doubt, seek prevention! You should already practice daily oral hygiene to prevent tooth decay and gum disease: brushing regularly with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily and limiting sweets. But by regulating certain lifestyle choices – smoking, alcohol use and sun exposure, for example – you can significantly lower your risk of developing oral cancer.
Ultimately, if you know what to look for and see your dentist for regular screenings, early signs of mouth cancer can be identified and taken care of before they become a serious problem.