Causes and Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Did you know men are two times more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer than women and the fastest growing segment of oral cancer population are non-smokers younger than 50?

Early detection is key. Dental associations are urging the public to get regular oral cancer screenings. The good news is oral cancer screenings can be done by Advantage Dental dentists during your regular dental check-up.

Every hour of everyday someone dies of oral cancer. This year, an estimated 58,450 new cases of oral cancer, cancer that develops in any part of the mouth and upper throat, will be diagnosed. Nearly 50 percent of people diagnosed will not survive longer than five years and survivors are likely to suffer from severe facial disfigurement, difficulty eating and trouble speaking. Because diagnosis tends to be too late in the cancer development stage the death rate of oral cancer is still particularly high.

“At Advantage Dental, we evaluate not only your dental needs, but your overall health; this why all of our patients receive regular oral cancer evaluations. You can be assured that you will be treated with the same quality care we ourselves would expect to receive.” – Dr. Alvin Watanabe, Regional Dental Director at Advantage Dental

Every April, we celebrate Oral Cancer Awareness Month as an effort to create awareness around this devastating disease. By participating in regular dental visits and oral cancer screenings your chances of early detection are dramatically increased.

Oral Cancer Symptoms

Be mindful of your symptoms. Oral cancer can occur on the lips, gums, tongue, inner cheeks, and the roof or floor of the mouth (under the tongue). Signs and symptom may include:

  • A lip or mouth sore that does not heal within 14 days
  • A white, red or black patch on the inside of your mouth
  • Any abnormality that bleeds when touched
  • A growth, hard lump, or thickening inside your mouth (usually on the side of the tongue)
  • Mouth pain
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty or painful swallowing
  • A painless, firm, fixated lump felt on the outside of the neck that has been there for at least two weeks

All of these symptoms are persistent and do not resolve in a timely manner. See your doctor immediately if any of the above symptoms persist and are bothersome for over two weeks. Your doctor will likely investigate other more common causes for your signs and symptoms first, such as an infection, as well as conducting an oral cancer screening.

Oral cancer can also be linked to the HPV virus. The same types of HPV that infect the genital areas can infect the mouth and throat – called oral HPV. HPV can cause normal cells to become abnormal. Cancer-causing types of oral HPV can cause cancers of the larynx (voice box), throat, lips, mouth, nose, and salivary glands. Tobacco, alcohol and infection with HPV increase the risk of being diagnosed with oral, neck, or head cancers.

What are the Symptoms of HPV-Caused Oral Cancers?

Signs and symptoms of HPV-caused oral cancers may persist longer than two to three weeks and may include one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Hoarseness or a sore throat that does not resolve
  • A painless, firm, fixated lump felt from the outside or your neck
  • Constant coughing
  • Difficulty swallowing and/or a sensation of food getting caught the throat
  • A persistent ear ache on one side that persists for more than a few days
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Unexplained weight loss

HPV-caused oral cancers are 3x more likely in men than women, however, some people may not experience any signs or symptoms. Call your dentist right away with any immediate concerns.

Lower Your Risk of Oral Cancer

There is no “at-home test” for oral cancer, so your best bet to lower your risk of being diagnosed is to make educated and healthy decisions. Though, no method is 100% guaranteed to keep you cancer free, here are some ways to lower your risk:

  • Stop smoking or don’t start: Using tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, exposes the cells in your mouth to dangerous cancer-causing chemicals. This includes cigarettes, pipes, hookah, snuff, chewing tobacco, and cigars among other things.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol use can irritate the cells in your mouth making them vulnerable to oral cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, drink in moderation. For a healthy adult drinking in moderation means two drinks a day for men under 65years and one drink a day for men over 65years and women of all ages.
  • Safe sex practices: To lower your risk of contracting oral HPV and the oral cancers associated with it, limit your chances of contracting all HPV by practicing safe sex. Always use condoms, dental dams, and limit the amount of sexual partners. In addition, if you are sexually active receiving regular STI and annual Pap testing is recommended.
  • Get your HPV vaccine: The HPV vaccine can lower your chances of contracting HPV and developing HPV related oral cancers – specifically oropharyngeal cancers. Though studies have not been done to specifically prove that the HPV vaccine prevents oropharyngeal cancers, because it prevents other infections associated with HPV it may be beneficial in preventing oral HPV-related cancers. The CDC recommends that 11-12 year old boys and girls should be vaccinated to protect against cancers caused by HPV. If you or your child was not vaccinated at 11 or 12 years of age, it is also recommended that girls through age 26 and boys through age 21 get vaccinated. For more information about the HPV vaccine and how it relates to your overall health, contact your primary care doctor.
  • Protect your lips: Excessive sun exposure to your lips may be a factor in developing oral cancer. Stay out of the sun and in shaded areas whenever possible, wear broad-brimmed hats that shade your entire face, including your mouth, and apply a chapstick or other lip products that contain sunscreen with an SPF of 25 for extra protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays.
  • Visit your dentist regularly: Advantage Dental dentists, as part of your routine dental exams, inspect your entire mouth for abnormal areas that may indicate precancerous changes, oral cancer, or other oral diseases.

For those of you that have never had an oral cancer screening, there is no better time than now. Click the button below to schedule an appointment at one of our locations.

April Oral Cancer Awareness month is an important reminder that these cancers can be detected early, and when they are detected and treated early your chances of treatment-related health issues and mortality are dramatically reduced.

For more information, talk with your dentist or visit the Oral Cancer Foundation website.

Sponsors of the Oral Cancer Foundation include the Academy of General Dentistry, the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, the American Academy of Oral Medicine, the American Academy of Periodontology, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and the American Dental Hygienist Associations.

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This blog is designed to provide general information and discussions about health and dental-related subjects. No doctor/dentist to patient relationship is established by your use of this blog or website. We are not providing any treatment or diagnosis on this blog, and it is not intended to offer specific dental or medical advice to anyone. The information or other content provided in this blog is not a substitute for professional dental expertise or treatment. We will do our best to provide you with information that will help you make your own healthcare decisions, however no guarantees or warranties are made regarding any of the information contained within this blog. If you have questions about any of the information presented on this blog, you should consult with your dentist. The dentists at Advantage Dental+ are licensed to practice in the states of Alabama, Florida, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas and this blog is not intended to solicit patients from other states. External links may be provided on this blog as a service and convenience to our patients and other visitors to our blog. These external sites are created and maintained by other public and private organizations, and we do not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance or timeliness of any outside information.

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Gary Allen, DMD, Advantage Dental Group, P.C. | James Thommes, DDS, Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Massachusetts, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health And Vision Center Of Alabama, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Oklahoma, P.C.; Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Texas, P.C. | Cory White, DMD, Advantage Dental Oral Health and Vision Center Of Alabama, P.C. | John Clasen, OD, Advantage Dental Oral Health and Vision Center Of Alabama, P.C. | Neil Williams, DMD, Advantage Dental Oral Health Center Of Florida, PA