Oral Cancer: How to Detect, Treat, and Prevent It

Oral cancer, like any other cancer, is a scary disease. It can be hard to detect and often goes untreated until it is too late. That’s why it’s essential to learn about the symptoms of oral cancer and how to detect, treat, and prevent it from happening in the first place, so you stay healthy!

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer, also called mouth cancer or oral cavity cancer, is a type of cancer that forms in the mouth or throat tissues. It can occur in any part of the mouth, including the lips, gums, tongue, palate, tonsils, or the back of the throat. It is most commonly found in men over the age of 40, and it has been found that it is less likely for women to develop mouth cancer at all.

How common is oral cancer?

Oral cancer is not as common as other types of cancer, such as breast cancer or lung cancer, but it can be deadly if not detected and treated early. 

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 45,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with oral cancer each year. That’s about 130 people per day. Unfortunately, because mouth cancer is so hard to detect, only about half of those people will survive over five or six years after the initial diagnosis.

That’s why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of mouth cancer, so you can get treatment if needed. It is always recommended to have regular visits to your dentist at least every six months and updated x-rays as needed.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

The symptoms can vary depending on the location and severity of oral cancer. However, some of the most common warning signs of oral cancer include:

  • Mouth sores or lesions that won’t heal after two weeks
  • White or red patches on the lining of the mouth
  • Bleeding or swollen gums
  • Mouth pain when chewing or swallowing
  • Persistent pain in the mouth
  • A lump in the neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Difficulty moving the tongue or jaw
  • Sore throat or hoarse voice that does not go away

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s essential to see your dentist or doctor right away for a mouth and neck exam. Detection during the early stages is key to the successful treatment of oral cancer.

Causes and Risk Factors

A direct cause is unknown, but some factors increase your chances of developing the disease and make a patient high-risk. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Exposure to UV radiation (such as from tanning beds)
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables

Oral Cancer Screening

Treatment of the cancer will depend on the stage of the tumor. Oral cancer screenings are important to detecting the disease early when it is most treatable.

During an oral cancer screening, your dentist or doctor will examine your mouth for any signs of cancer like sores, red patches, or excessive bleeding and swelling of the gum tissue. They will also feel along your neck and jaw for any lumps or swelling. The dentist may recommend having a special x-ray done, called a panoramic radiograph, which will give a 180-degree view of your mouth and jaw.

If cancer is found, treatment may include surgery by an oral surgeon, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments.

Oral Cancer Treatment

Treatment typically varies based on the stage of cancer, the current oral health of the patient, and other factors.

Some of the most common treatments for oral cancer include:

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment. The goal of oral cancer surgery is to try and remove the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue around it. This surgery may be done in stages or all at once and may involve a scalpel, laser, or another type of cutting tool, depending on the location and size of cancer.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy kills cancer cells using high-energy beams. It is often used after the initial surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells that might have been missed. Radiation therapy can also be used as the primary treatment for oral cancer if surgery is not available.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is often combined with radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells that might have been missed. Chemotherapy can also be used as the primary treatment for oral cancer if surgery and radiation therapy are not options.

Targeted Drug Therapy

Targeted drug therapy is a newer type of treatment that uses drugs to block the signals that cancer cells use to grow and spread. This type of therapy is being used more and more often to treat oral cancer, as it can be tailored specifically to the individual tumor.

If you are diagnosed with oral cancer, your dentist or doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan that is right for you. Early detection is key to the successful treatment of oral cancer, so be sure to see your dentist or doctor regularly for examinations.

How to Cope With Diagnosis

It can be a lot to take in when you are first diagnosed with oral cancer. You may feel scared, confused, or alone and not know how to move forward.

The best way to cope after developing oral cancer is to talk to your friends and family about what you’re going through. They want to help and support you, but they might not know how if you don’t tell them.

If you cannot talk to friends and family, there are many support groups available for people with oral cancer and their families.

Another way to cope is to take care of yourself physically and emotionally, as a cancer diagnosis can be detrimental to your mental health, too. Make sure you get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet. Exercise can also help reduce stress and anxiety.

If you find that you are struggling to cope, be sure to talk to your doctor or a therapist. They can help you get through this tough time.

Paranoid About Oral Cancer?

The best way to deal with oral cancer is to try and prevent it from happening in the first place by visiting your dentist or doctor regularly for examinations and screenings. Be sure to tell them about any changes in your mouth, such as a new mouth sore, white or red patch on the gums, or excessive bleeding and swelling of the gum tissue.

Mann Family Dental of Manchester, NH is committed to helping our patients maintain good oral health and providing high-quality patient education. We offer regular examinations and screenings for oral cancer and a variety of other dental services. Call us at 603-605-1734 or schedule an appointment online to speak with one of our dental professionals today!

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About DR. RUSSELL D. MANN

Dr. Russell Mann graduated from the University of Texas Dental Branch in Houston Texas and has owned and operated his dental practice in Manchester New Hampshire for over 20 years.

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