Oral cancer

What is oral cancer?

    Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, encompasses various types of cancer affecting the interior of the mouth. Symptoms may initially resemble common mouth issues, such as persistent white patches or bleeding sores, but what sets potential cancer apart is that these changes do not resolve over time. If left untreated, oral cancer can metastasize within the mouth and throat, affecting other regions of the head and neck. It's worth noting that approximately 63% of individuals diagnosed with oral cavity cancer survive for at least five years after their diagnosis.

    What are the types of oral cancer?

    Types of oral cancers encompass malignancies affecting various regions, including:

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Inner lining of the cheek
  • Gums
  • Floor of the mouth
  • Hard and soft palate

    Typically, dentists are the first healthcare professionals to identify signs of oral cancer. Regular biannual dental checkups enable dentists to monitor the oral health of patients effectively.

What are the causes of oral cancer?

    Cancer occurs due to genetic alterations in the body, causing cells to proliferate uncontrollably. This unregulated cell growth leads to the formation of a tumour. Over time, these abnormal cells can metastasize to other areas of the body.

    Approximately 90% of oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, originating from the squamous cells lining the lips and the interior of the mouth.

What are the risk factors of oral cancer?

    Risk factors for developing oral cancer include tobacco use in various forms such as smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco. Individuals who frequently consume alcohol along with tobacco are at an elevated risk, particularly with consistent usage.

    Additional risk factors comprise:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Chronic exposure of the face to sunlight
  • Previous diagnosis of oral cancer
  • Family history of oral or other cancers
  • Weakened immune system
  • Poor dietary habits
  • Genetic syndromes
  • Male gender, as men have double the likelihood of developing oral cancer compared to women.

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

    In the initial stages, oral cancer may not exhibit any noticeable signs or symptoms.

    Regular dental checkups are crucial for individuals who smoke heavily or consume alcohol excessively, as both habits are linked to mouth cancer risk.

    Dentists are often adept at detecting early indications of oral cancer during routine examinations.

    Pre cancer symptoms

    Indicators suggesting the potential development of cancer include:

    1. Leucoplakia: Characterized by persistent white patches in the mouth that do not diminish upon rubbing.

    2. Oral lichen planus: Manifested by areas of white lines bordered by redness, potentially accompanied by ulceration.

    Numerous oral lesions may be precancerous, necessitating consultation with a healthcare provider regarding any observed changes in the mouth.

    Vigilant monitoring of alterations can aid in the early detection of mouth cancer, enhancing treatment efficacy.


    If cancer emerges, individuals may observe:

  • Patches on the mouth lining or tongue, typically appearing red or red and white.
  • Bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth.
  • Mouth ulcers or persistent sores that resist healing.
  • A lump or thickening in the gums or mouth lining.
  • Unexplained loosening of teeth.
  • Ill-fitting dentures.
  • Jaw swelling.
  • Persistent sore throat or sensation of throat obstruction.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing.
  • Impaired tongue or jaw movement.

    Experiencing any of these symptoms does not definitively indicate mouth cancer, but seeking medical advice is prudent.

Complications of oral cancer

    Mouth cancer and its treatment can entail various complications.

    Surgical complications may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Pain
  • Difficulty with eating and swallowing

    Long-term issues may involve:

  • Carotid artery narrowing: This can occur post-radiation therapy and pose cardiovascular risks.
  • Dental concerns: Changes in mouth and jaw structure due to surgery may lead to dental problems.
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing): This can hinder eating and elevate the risk of food inhalation and subsequent infections.
  • Speech difficulties: Alterations in tongue, lips, and other oral structures may impact speech.
  • Mental health challenges: Feelings of depression, irritability, frustration, and anxiety may manifest.
  • Participating in local or online support groups can provide valuable support by connecting with individuals who share similar experiences.

When to talk to the doctor

    Schedule an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you experience persistent signs and symptoms lasting more than two weeks that concern you. Initially, your healthcare provider will likely explore more common causes for your symptoms, such as an infection, before considering other possibilities.

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