Oral cancer is one of the most common cancers, with roughly 35,000 new cases reported annually in the United States. The vast majority of oral cancers occur in people older than 50 years, with men being twice as likely as women to develop the disease. The most frequent oral cancer sites are the tongue, the floor of the mouth and soft palate tissues in back of the tongue, lips and gums. If not diagnosed and treated in its early stages, oral cancer can spread, leading to chronic pain, loss of function, irreparable facial and oral disfigurement following surgery and even death. Your dentist can perform a thorough screening for oral cancer.
Scientists aren’t sure of the exact cause of oral cancer. However, the carcinogens in tobacco products and alcohol, as well as excessive exposure to the sun, have been found to increase the risk of developing oral cancer.
Your dentist should screen for oral cancer during routine checkups. He or she feels for lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, cheeks and oral cavity and thoroughly examines the soft tissues in your mouth, specifically looking for any sores or discolored tissues.
Know the Symptoms
Oral cancer represented by red, white or discolored lesions, patches or lumps in or around the mouth is typically painless in its early stages. As the malignant cancer spreads and destroys healthy oral tissue, the lesions or lumps become more painful. However, oral cancer is sometimes difficult to self-diagnose, so routine dental exams are recommended. See your dentist immediately if you observe: any sore that persists longer than two weeks; a swelling, growth or lump anywhere in or about the mouth or neck; white or red patches in the mouth or on the lips; repeated bleeding from the mouth or throat; difficulty swallowing or persistent hoarseness.