What are the Early Signs of Mouth Cancer?

Oral cancer refers to uncontrolled growth and multiplication of cells that can occur in any part of the mouth.

Most common oral sites that are prone to oral cancer are the mucosa of the cheeks, dorsal surface of the tongue, lips, gums, and mucosal lining of the mouth. (1)

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More than 51,000 people of the United States get diagnosed with oral cancer every year. (2)

However, the mortality rate for oral cancer has been declined over the past few years.

Prompt treatment and early diagnosis of this oral condition have significantly proved to increase the rate of survival.

The probability of developing oral cancer increases with the consistency of bad oral habits.

Risk factors for oral cancer include smoking, tobacco chewing, and consumption of alcohol, excessive sun exposure HPV infection or a previous family history of cancer.

Routine dental examinations are the key to early diagnosis of oral cancer. The dentist looks explicitly at the oral tissues during a dental exam and checks for all the signs that stand positive for oral cancer to rule it out.

In most cases, a biopsy of the affected site may be required to confirm the diagnosis. (3)

Warning signs of mouth cancer

Symptoms of oral cancer may vary from one person to another; however, some definite signs may lead to early detection of oral cancer.

Following are the warning signs of mouth cancer that require attention if they persist for more than two weeks – (4)

  • A lump or swelling in the mouth, throat or neck
  • Swelling around the cheeks
  • Presence of a white or red patch on the tongue, lip or anywhere in the mouth
  • Persistent soreness or ulcers in the mouth
  • Difficulty in chewing and swallowing
  • Difficulty in moving the tongue or jaw
  • Numbness, pain, tenderness, and discomfort around the swelling or lump in the mouth
  • Loss of teeth with no apparent dental issue
  • Hoarseness of voice

These signs may be shared for an oral infection or an allergic reaction. However, the persistence of any of these symptoms for more than two weeks is an alarming sign.

Treatment and Prevention

Like any other cancer of the body, oral cancer is also treated with radiation therapy and surgical intervention.

Chemotherapy may also be used to limit the cancerous growth and reduce the size of the tumor. (5)

When in doubt about the signs and symptoms, it is always better to follow the route to prevention.

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Preventive therapy will significantly reduce the risk of developing or aggravating oral cancer. Some of the preventive methods for oral cancer include –

  • Quit smoking or use of tobacco to prevent the intake of cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Limit the consumption of alcohol – alcohol is one of the prime causes for irritation of cell in the mouth, which makes it vulnerable for developing oral cancer. The moderate limit of drinking alcohol for women of all ages is one drink per day, and that for men is two drinks per day.
  • Sun protection is essential to prevent lip cancer. Apply sunscreen on all the exposed parts of your face and body to avoid harmful UV radiations from damaging the skin.
  • Regular dental check-ups are the key to early diagnosis and prompt treatment. Never miss a dental appointment and discuss your symptoms in detail with your dentist to rule out oral cancer.
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