Oral cancer is no less serious than any other type of cancer, and it can be life-threatening if it's not caught and treated early. Cancerous growths can develop on the tongue, cheeks, soft palate, lips and throat, and the condition is more common in men than women. Risk factors associated with developing oral cancer include alcohol consumption, smoking, a family history of cancer and exposure to the human papillomavirus. However, you can still develop the condition without these risk factors. Here's what you need to know about oral cancer:
Symptoms of oral cancer include numbness and bleeding in the mouth, white or red patches of tissue in the mouth, lumps or areas of swelling and pain when swallowing. You may also experience generalised pain or tenderness around your mouth or neck, and some sufferers experience sudden weight loss. Oral cancer affecting the throat can cause hoarseness, and you may notice your voice changes.
Diagnosis And Treatment
When you have a routine dental check-up, a dentist will check for signs of oral cancer including discoloured tissue and irregular growths. You should also let your dentist know if you have been experiencing any of the symptoms associated with oral cancer. When oral cancer is suspected, a tissue sample will be collected using a scalpel or laser and analysed for the presence of cancerous cells.
Treatment will depend on where in your mouth you have cancerous cells, but surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are common treatments. Smoking can have an adverse effect on treatment outcomes, so if you smoke, you'll be offered help to quit before starting your treatment, such as referral to a smoking cessation clinic or nicotine replacement products. Surgery is used to remove cancerous growths when the cancer hasn't spread, while radiotherapy and chemotherapy are used to destroy cancerous cells causing a tumour or growth in your mouth. Radiotherapy uses a beam of radiation and doesn't usually cause problematic side-effects, while chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and can weaken your immune system during the treatment period.
You should check your mouth regularly for signs of oral cancer, and this can be done using a small torch, such as a mobile phone torch, and a mirror. Check the roof of your mouth, the surface of your tongue and your cheeks for growths or discolouration. If you have any signs or symptoms associated with oral cancer, or if you're overdue a dental exam, schedule an immediate appointment with a dentist.