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Oral Cancer Signs And Symptoms

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Your dental professionals aren't just looking for cavities when examining your teeth during your regular visits. They're also checking your mouth for anything abnormal—including oral cancer signs that may warrant further investigation or testing. But what are some of the oral cancer signs they're looking for?

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer includes cancer in all parts of the mouth, as well as cancers of the throat and esophagus. While there are several outwardly visible signs of oral cancer, there are also more subtle symptoms that you should pay attention to and mention to your dental professional.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

One of the most common signs of oral cancer is discoloration and sores on the throat, gums, tongue, and other mouth areas. While it's normal for your tongue to turn slightly different colors depending on the foods you eat (like when you drink a blue slushie), persistent discoloration that cannot be attributed to something else should be mentioned to your practitioner. Other signs to look out for include:

  • Sores: Any sores that bleed easily and don't seem to heal within a normal amount of time may cause concern.
  • Patches: White or red patches in the mouth can indicate oral cancer, but it is important to check for other reasons, as well. For instance, a persistent white coating on the tongue may indicate thrush, which is easily treatable with antifungals from your doctor.
  • Lumps: Also, be on the lookout for abnormal irritation, lumps, or numb patches in the mouth and tongue.

How Is Oral Cancer Treated?

Early detection is key to treating oral cancer, making knowing the symptoms even more critical. Treatment will vary depending on the stage and location of the oral cancer. Cancer treatments carry risks, and your medical professional will discuss the different treatment options for your needs. Some oral cancer treatment methods include:

  • Surgery to remove tumors
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Palliative treatment

Treating cancer also requires some lifestyle changes. It would be best to abstain from tobacco and alcohol while emphasizing a nutritious diet and exercise.

How to Prevent Oral Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, the risk for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers increases in people who use tobacco than in those who don't. Though avoiding certain risk factors can prevent oral cancer, it can still develop due to age, gender, and genetics. For example, oral cancer is twice as common in men than women.

Other risk factors of oral cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Smokeless tobacco
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Excessive exposure to the sun and UV light
  • Poor diet

Several oral cancer signs could have other, less dramatic causes, so reporting any unusual symptoms to your dentist and dental hygienist is essential. The earlier any suspected oral cancer is found, the better the survival rates. While your dental professional will perform routine checks during your regular examination and may even check for oral cancer using special diagnostic equipment, make sure to report any new or unusual developments in between checkups with a phone call or visit.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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