Solterra Dentistry

Oral Cancer: Everything You Need to Know

September 1, 2022
5 Min Read
Oral Cancer: Everything You Need to Know

Oral Cancer In The World

About 50,000 people in the U.S. get oral cancer yearly; 70% are men. According to the American Cancer Society, men have twice the risk of developing oral cancer as women. Oral cancer begins in the cells that make up the inside of the mouth or lips. It is pretty standard and can be cured if detected and treated early (when it is small and has not spread). 

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer is cancer that develops in the tissues of the mouth or throat. It belongs to a broader group of cancers called head and neck cancers. Most develop in the mouth, tongue, and lips squamous cells. But it also includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat).  The overall 5-year survival rate for patients with early diagnosis of the oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers is 84%. However, if cancer has spread to nearby tissues, organs, or lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate drops to 65%.

How does oral cancer develop?

Cancer begins when cells change (mutate) and grow out of control. For example, oral cancer starts in the squamous cells in your oral cavity. Squamous cells are flat and look like a fish scale when viewed under a microscope. Normal squamous cells become cancerous when their DNA changes and cells begin growing and multiplying. Over time, these cancerous cells can spread to other areas inside your mouth and then to other areas of your head and neck or your body. Cancer cells can also grow (invade) nearby areas. They can also spread to other parts of the body. This is called metastasis.

Oral cancer screenings

Experts recommend getting a checkup every year starting at age 18 and earlier if you start smoking or having sex. Oral cancers are most often discovered when they have spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. Early diagnosis is critical because treatment of stage 1 and 2 cancers may be less complicated and more likely to be successful. During a routine oral cancer screening exam, your dentist examines the inside of your mouth to check for red or white spots or sores in your mouth. Specifically, your dentist will detect any lumps or irregular changes in the neck, head, face, and oral cavity tissues. A biopsy may be necessary to determine the composition of a suspicious-looking area. There are different types of biopsies, and your doctor can decide which is best.  

In addition, your dentist may recommend one or more screenings:

  • X-rays show if cancer cells have spread to the jaw, chest, or lungs.
  • CT scan to reveal any tumors in another part of the body.
  • PET scan to determine if cancer has moved to the lymph nodes or other organs
  • MRI scan to show a more accurate picture of the head and neck
  • Endoscopy to examine the nasal passages, sinuses, inside of the throat, trachea, and oral cavity.

What can cause oral cancer?

It is unclear what causes the mutations in squamous cells that lead to mouth cancer. But doctors have identified factors that may increase the risk of mouth cancer. Such as:

  • Tobacco use, including cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, poses a risk of developing oral cancers. 
  • Heavy alcohol consumption also increases the risk. Oral cancers are about six times more common in drinkers than in nondrinkers. 
  • Family history of cancer.
  • VPH. Infection with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (VPH type 16) has been linked to oral cancers.
  • Excessive sun exposure. Lip cancer can be caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
  • Poor diet. Studies have found a link between oral cancer and not eating enough vegetables and fruits.

Some of the symptoms that occur are

  • A sore, irritation, lump, or thick spot on the lip, throat, or mouth that does not heal
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing
  • Problems wearing dentures
  • An earache that does not go away
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Numbness of the lower lip, face, neck, or chin
  • Pain or stiffness of the jaw or tongue

Preventative dentistry in Phoenix, AZ

Oral cancer is a severe disease that, if detected early, can be treated successfully. That is why at Solterra Dentistry, we insist you visit your dentist twice a year and make time for a monthly self-examination. Don't hesitate to contact our team whenever you notice changes in your mouth. A cancer diagnosis can be scary, but today there are many ways to prevent oral cancer. However, know that you don't have to go it alone. Dr. Manov and his team are trained to provide you with all the resources to help you talk to your friends and family about oral cancer.

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