What You Should Know About The Symptoms Of Oral Cancer

 In General Dentistry

It’s not something that most stop to think about when it comes to their oral health, but oral cancer affects more than 50,000 people in the U.S. each year.  It’s a cancer that commonly develops in the tissues of the mouth or throat, but it can also occur in the gums, tongue, tonsils, and other areas in the mouth.  It can be a scary diagnosis and experience, but the good news is that it can be treated. It’s all about taking proactive measures, getting that early diagnosis, and seeking treatment as soon as you begin to or suspect you’ve developed symptoms.  

How exactly do you know if you’re at risk?  Let’s take a closer look at the symptoms of oral cancer and the actions you can take to lessen your risk.

Signs & Symptoms of Oral Cancer

There are many varied signs and symptoms associated with oral cancer, and they often vary from person to person.  Most commonly, those with oral cancer experience mouth sores and persistent pain. But, signs of this disease may also present as white or red patches on the gums, lining of the mouth, or tonsils.  Other symptoms include:

  • Constant bad breath
  • That “caught-in-your-throat” feeling
  • Neck swelling
  • Development of a lump in your cheek
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty moving your tongue or jaw
  • Weight loss

As with any type of cancer, individual experiences will vary.  So, if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect oral cancer, see your dentist right away.  

Who’s at Risk of Oral Cancer?

Now that you know the signs and symptoms to watch out for, you may be thinking, “What exactly puts me at risk of developing oral cancer?”  And well, the truth is that the exact cause has yet to be determined. But, what scientists have come to learn is that cancers occur when a person’s genetic code, which controls cell growth and death, becomes damaged or mutates.  We also know that the following habits and factors are known to increase a person’s risk of developing oral cancer:

  • Tobacco – The use of tobacco products, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, chewing tobacco, etc., increases the risk of developing oral cancer.   
  • Alcohol – Those who have a habit of consuming large amounts of alcohol are more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer.  And, for those who are both heavy drinkers and tobacco users, the risk is even greater.
  • Sun Exposure – This one might seem odd at first, until you put together the association with skin cancer.  Excess exposure of your lips to sunlight can increase your risk of oral cancer. That’s why it’s important to use a lip balm or cream that contains SPF whenever spending extended periods of time in direct sunlight.    
  • HPV – Many will be surprised to hear that there has been a rise in cases of oral cancer in individuals with HPV, or Human Papillomavirus.  These cancers are being found at the back of the throat, in the tonsils, and on the base of the tongue.

How You Can Minimize Your Risk

The good news is that oral cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer.  And, to minimize your risk in the first place, there are a few things you can do, including:  

  • Not smoking
  • Drinking in moderation
  • Practicing good oral health habits
  • Limiting prolonged sun exposure
  • Wearing SPF lip balm
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Cleaning and removing dentures every night

While there is no full-proof means to prevent oral cancer, you can take steps to reduce your risk.  And, part of that prevention includes sticking to your bi-annual dentist visits. So, whether you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of oral cancer, or you’re just ready for a checkup to make sure your oral health is in top shape, call us today.      

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