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Oral Cancer

Cancer is defined as the uncontrollable growth of cells that invade and cause damage to surrounding tissue. Oral cancer appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not go away. Oral cancer, which includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, and hard palate, can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. This cancer accounts for less than 5% of all cancers in the United states.

What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

The most common symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Swellings/thickenings, lumps or bumps, rough spots/crusts/or eroded areas on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth.
  • The development of velvety white, red, or speckled (white and red) patches in the mouth.
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth.
  • Unexplained numbness, loss of feeling, or pain/tenderness in any area of the face, mouth, neck, or ear.
  • Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within 2 weeks.
  • A soreness or feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat.
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue.
  • Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or change in voice (especially slurred speech).
  • Ear pain.
  • A change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together.
  • Dramatic weight loss.
  • A lump in the neck.

If you notice any of these changes, contact a health care professional immediately for an exam.

Who Gets Oral Cancer?

Men account for 70% of oral cancers  with men over the age of 50 having the greatest risk. Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer among men.

Risk factors for oral cancer include:

  • Smoking. Cigarette, cigar, or pipe smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop oral cancers.
  • Smokeless tobacco users. Users of snuff or chewing tobacco increase their risk of cancer to the oral cavity.
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol. Oral cancers are about six times more common in drinkers than in nondrinkers. Although alcohol is less potent than tobacco in causing oral cancers, the combination of alcohol with tobacco results in a much higher risk of developing oral cancers, compared to either agent alone.
  • Family history of cancer.
  • Excessive sun exposure for lip cancer.
  • Poor dietary habits.
  • Smoking marijuana.

It is important to note that over 25% of all oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and who only drink alcohol occasionally. In these people, viral infections may be the cause. The human papilloma virus (HPV) has been detected in up to 36% of patients with oral cancers. This is the same virus responsible for the majority of cases of cervical cancer. The presence of an oral infection with this virus increases the risk of developing an oral cancer by 14.6 times that of the general population.

The presence, though, of the HPV virus in oral cancers indicates a better prognosis. This includes a lower risk of developing a second cancer and a lower risk of dying from other tobacco related illnesses, such as heart disease or lung disease.

WebMD Medical Reference

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