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Woman getting oral cancer screening at dentist

Oral cancer is a severe medical condition that requires early detection for the best possible outcomes. In 2022, there were about 54,000 new cases, accounting for about 3% of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S.

While oral cancer can affect anyone, it’s more common in people over 40 and occurs more often in men than women. Those who use alcohol or tobacco are also at an increased risk.

Knowing the signs and symptoms to look for and getting routine dental care can help you seek early intervention to improve your chances of a positive outcome.

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in and around the mouth and throat. These cancerous growths can occur in various areas, such as the tongue, lips, cheeks, hard and soft palate, floor of the mouth, sinuses, and pharynx (throat).

If not detected and treated early, oral cancer can be life-threatening. Early treatment that stops the cancer before it spreads can mean an 84% survival rate over five years. However, after spreading to other areas, this lowers to between 39% and 66%.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of oral cancer can be easily overlooked, making it vital to stay vigilant and responsive to unexplained changes in your mouth. Here are the most common indicators:

  • Sores and ulcers. Wounds, like open sores or ulcers on your mouth, neck, or face that last for more than two weeks and bleed easily.
  • Color changes. Development of red, white, or speckled (red and white) patches in the mouth.
  • Pain or tenderness. Unexplained pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips.
  • Lumps or thickening. Lumps, thickening tissues, rough spots, or crusty or eroded areas.
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing. Challenges in chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue.
  • Jaw issues. Changes in the way your teeth or dentures fit together or a change in your jaw alignment.
  • Sore throat or feeling something is caught. Persistent sore throat or the feeling that something is stuck in the back of your throat.
  • Voice changes. Unexplained changes in the sound of your voice or hoarseness.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the risk of developing oral cancer, including:

  • Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or using chewing tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Carrying the human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly HPV16
  • Exposure to sunlight, especially at a young age, can increase the risk of lip cancer
  • Poor diet and nutrition lacking fruits and vegetables
  • Having a genetic predisposition or family history of oral cancers

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you experience these symptoms for over two weeks, see your dentist or doctor promptly. They can conduct various diagnostic tests, such as physical exams, biopsies, imaging scans, and specialized tests, like stains or scopes, to determine if cancer is present and help you with the next steps.

Treatment options depend on the type of cancer, its location, and the stage of advancement. They may involve surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these approaches. Early-stage cancers typically respond better to treatment and have a higher chance of successful management.

Prevention Tips

To reduce your risk of oral cancer, act on the following tips:

  • Avoid tobacco in all forms
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Use lip balm with SPF when outdoors
  • Maintain regular dental check-ups
  • Consider HPV vaccination

Schedule Your Dental Exam With Smile On Dental Salon & Sleep Apnea Center

Staying on top of your regular dental checkups is important for catching signs of oral cancer early. If you’re worried about your dental health or want to be proactive, contact our team at Smile On Chicago Dental Salon & Sleep Apnea Center.

We’ll help you get scheduled as soon as possible so our dental professionals can assess your oral health and provide necessary treatments or referrals.

Be proud of your smile.