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The 5 Types Of Oral Cancer

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Reading reports and stories about oral cancer can be frightening, but the key is to stay calm, understand the research and facts, and talk to your dental professional. Remember, your dentist or dental hygienist won’t be able to tell if your symptoms are cancer-related until you get a proper screening. Being aware of oral cancers and symptoms can help you be more on top of your oral health and lead to early detection. 

The Facts About Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the mouth and neck region. On average, oral cancer makes up roughly 3% of new cancer diagnoses each year in the United States. Further, about 53,000 people will be diagnosed every year with a type of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are related to tobacco use, alcohol use, human papillomavirus (HPV), and sun exposure. Treatment often involves surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Oral cancer can be found in two regions: the oral cavity (which is in the lips, cheeks, teeth, gums, tongue, and floor and roof of your mouth) and the oropharynx (the middle region of the throat, including the tonsils and base of the tongue). When it comes to types of cancerous cells, they can often take the form of basal cell carcinoma on the skin (basal cell carcinoma in the oral cavity is rare if found on the lips) and squamous cells.

Now that you know some facts, here are the five types of oral cancer to be aware of. And remember, if you experience symptoms, keep calm and talk to your dental professional.

1. Tongue Cancer

Several types of cancer can form on the tongue, but it most commonly occurs in the thin, flat squamous cells that line the tongue's surface. Tongue cancer can occur either in the mouth or the throat. If found in the mouth, it can typically be identified and removed with surgery. Tongue cancer found in the throat may be a sign that the cancer is more advanced. The best way to identify tongue cancer is by noticing any differences in your tongue. Those can come in the form of bumps, swollen areas, or thick patches. Difficulty swallowing or moving the tongue may also be a sign. Early detection is critical; be sure to talk to your oral care provider if you notice any changes.

2. Lip Cancer

According to Penn Medicine, lip cancer is both a type of skin cancer and oral cancer and is the most common type of mouth cancer. It can occur anywhere on the upper or lower lip and are typically squamous cells. The most common risk factors are sun exposure and smoking, and symptoms could take the form of a whitish discoloration of the lip, a sore that won't heal, tingling, pain, and numbness around the lips. Luckily, treatment involves surgery or even a minor procedure.

3. Gum Cancer

While gum cancer is a type of head and neck cancer, it can sometimes be misdiagnosed as gingivitis. Gum cancer signs can look like white, red, or dark patches, bleeding or cracking, or dense areas on the gums. Luckily, if diagnosed early, gum cancer has a good prognosis. Treatment typically involves surgery, but more advanced cases may call for radiation. Seek further evaluation if you notice signs of changes to your gum tissues.

4. Throat Cancer

Throat cancer is also a type of head and neck cancer. It comes in the form of tumors that develop in your throat, voice box, tonsils, or windpipe. Tobacco use, heavy alcohol drinking, and HPV are the leading causes. Symptoms can come in the form of a long-lasting sore throat, a lump in the neck, pain or ringing in the ears, trouble swallowing, or changes in your voice. Luckily, there are ways to prevent throat cancer: avoid smoking and alcohol use. Additionally, eating colorful fruits and vegetables can add antioxidants to your diet. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms that last more than a week or two, talk to your doctor.

5. Jaw Cancer

Jaw cancer is rare and most often appears as a tumor on the jawbone or in the soft tissues in the mouth and face. These tumors are usually slow-growing and benign (noncancerous) but can grow rapidly, cause pain, and displace teeth. According to the National Institute of Health, malignant (cancerous) tumors are most often found in the molar area. If you detect any lumps on your jaw, it may be a cyst or benign lesion—but it's important to talk to your dentist to identify it correctly. If it is a cancerous tumor, your doctor can surgically remove it, though you may also need chemotherapy or radiation therapy during this process.

It's essential to monitor your mouth for changes and regularly see your dentist or dental hygienist for oral cancer screenings. This way, if you detect any oral cavity cancer signs, you can start treatment right away. And if your oral professional does see something, remember to stay calm! Your dentist won't be able to tell right away if they're looking at cancer; your diagnosis will become more apparent after a biopsy.


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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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