Oral cancer begins in the mouth, also called the oral cavity. This region of the body includes the lips, the inside lining of the lips and cheeks (called the buccal mucosa), the teeth, the gums, most of the tongue, the bottom of the mouth, and the bony roof of the mouth, or hard palate.
In addition, oral cancer can also develop in the oropharynx, which is the part of the throat that is just behind the mouth. When cancer occurs here, it is called oropharyngeal cancer or throat cancer, and can include the back of the tongue, the back of the roof of the mouth, the tonsils, and the walls of the upper throat.
The oral cavity and oropharynx are key to the healthy functioning of the body. They help us breathe, eat and speak. Salivary glands in the oral cavity start breaking down food as we chew, an essential part of digestion.
Cancer can develop in any part of the oral cavity. Because each part of the oral cavity is different, oral cancer encompasses a wide variety of cancer types that are treated in different ways.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Sore throat that won’t go away
Pain when swallowing
Lump in the neck
Mouth sores that won’t heal
Oral Cancer Prevention
The best method of oral cancer prevention is to stay away from the things that are known to be preventable causes of oral cancer. These things include:
Tobacco use (including smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, smokeless tobacco, etc.)
Excessive alcohol use
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is usually transmitted through sexual contact
Overexposure to the sun (UV light)
A diet low in fruits and vegetables
As with all types of cancer, catching oral cancer early is best. Oral cancer is much easier to treat and chances of survival are much higher if found in the early stages. You should do a regular self-examination to check for any possible cancerous spots or oral cancer symptoms. Also,regularly visit the dentist or doctor. Regular visits mean they can find and track any sudden changes or irregularities in your mouth.
What can you expect in a basic oral cancer exam performed by a dentist or doctor.
In preparing for the oral exam remove dentures or partials if you have them.
The dentist or doctor will first look for any visible signs of cancer on your face, neck, lips and mouth.
The dentist or doctor will feel for lumps in the area under your jaw and the side of your neck.
The dentist or doctor will then look for red and/or white patches and other signs of cancer on the insides of your lips and cheeks.
Next, he or she will look for swelling, an abnormal color or texture on your tongue.
Using gauze, the dentist or doctor will then gently pull your tongue to both sides, to check the base and underside of your tongue for any possible cancerous spots.
In addition, he or she will look at the roof and floor of your mouth, as well as the back of your throat.
Lastly, your provider will check for lumps or sensitivity in your mouth by placing one finger in your mouth and the other under your chin.
Most dentists perform an examination of your mouth during a routine dental visit to screen for oral cancer. Some dentists may use additional tests to aid in identifying areas of abnormal cells in your mouth.
Sources: Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Mouth-Togune-Gum-Throat-Cancer.com, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, Mayo Clinic