Oral cancer initiates in the mouth, also known as the oral cavity.
This area of the body includes the lips, the inside lining of the cheeks and lips (buccal mucosa), the gums, the teeth, most of the tongue, the floor of the mouth, and the body roof of the mouth (hard palate).
On top of this, oral cancer can also develop in the oropharynx. This is the area of the throat right behind the mouth. When cancer develops in this region, it is known as oropharyngeal cancer or throat cancer and may include the back of the mouth roof, the back of the tongue, the tonsils, and the walls of the upper throat.
The oropharynx and the oral cavity are vital for healthy body function. They help us eat, speak, and breathe. The salivary glands in the oral cavity break down the food as a person chews, which is an important part of digestion.
Cancer can occur in any area of the oral cavity. As each region of the oral cavity is distinct, oral cancer refers to a wide range of cancer types that are treated in various different ways.
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 51,540 people in the US were diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in 2018.
Mouth cancer may present the following signs and symptoms:
- A mouth or lip sore that does not heal
- A white or red patch within the mouth
- Loose teeth
- A lump or growth inside the mouth
- Pain in the mouth
- Pain in the ear
- Pain or difficulty in swallowing
When to Consult a Doctor
A person experiencing persistent signs and symptoms that last for over two weeks should consult their doctor or dentist. The doctor will likely examine for other more common reasons for the signs and symptoms initially, such as an infection.
While there is no sure shot way to prevent mouth cancer, a person can reduce their risk of developing mouth cancer if they:
- Discontinue or never use tobacco. People using tobacco should stop its use. Individuals who not use tobacco should not start doing so. Tobacco use, whether chewed or smoked, exposes the mouth cells to dangerous cancer-causing chemicals.
- Consume alcohol in moderation, if at all. The chronic excessive use of alcohol can irritate the mouth cells making them more susceptible to developing mouth cancer. If a person drinks alcohol, they should do so in moderation.
- Avoid too much sun exposure to the lips. Protect the skin on the lips from sunlight by remaining in the shade when possible. Use a wide-brimmed hat that effectively shades the whole face, including the mouth. Include applying a sunscreen lip product as a part of the routine sun protection regimen.
- Consult the dentist routinely as well as ask them to inspect the entire mouth for abnormal areas that may indicate mouth cancer or precancerous lesions.
Mouth cancers occur when the cells in the mouth or on the lips develop mutations (changes) in their DNA. The DNA of a cell contains the guidelines that tell a cell how to function. The mutation changes instruct cells to continue growing and proliferating when normal cells would die.
The accumulation of abnormal mouth cancer cells can develop into a tumor. Over time, they may spread within the mouth as well as on to other regions of the neck and head or other body parts.
Dr. Landon D. McLain receives patients from Huntsville, Madison, Florence, Decatur, Scottsboro, Cullman, Athens, Alabama, and nearby areas for oral surgery.
McLain Surgical Arts is a leading cosmetic plastic surgery practice headed by Dr. Landon D. McLain MD, DMD, FACS in Huntsville, AL. Dr. McLain is a double board certified cosmetic and oral & maxillofacial surgeon, offering a variety of procedures such as dental implants, wisdom teeth extraction, breast augmentation, liposuction, rhinoplasty, tummy tuck, facelift, Botox, and laser skin resurfacing. For more information or to schedule a consultation call 256.429.3411 or click here.
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