Each year, mouth cancer claims over 10,000 lives and over 50,000 people get diagnosed with some form of it. Yet, it is often ignored, overlooked or misunderstood.

The following information is intended to help people better understand what mouth cancer is, its symptoms and treatment. Most importantly, it is intended to prompt those with suspected mouth cancer to get it looked at as soon as possible.

What is Mouth Cancer?

The term mouth cancer can be misleading because it covers much more than just the mouth. Generally speaking, mouth cancer is any cancer that occurs in any of the parts of the mouth.

Cancer that occurs inside of the mouth has its own name: Oral cancer or Oral cavity cancer. All cancer associated with the mouth is grouped in the category of head and neck cancers. 

The Faces of Mouth Cancer

Oral cancer, or mouth cancer, can happen in any part of the mouth. This includes:

  • Lips
  • Gums
  • Tongue
  • Cheeks
  • Roof of the Mouth
  • Floor of the Mouth

Treatments and prognosis, as with every cancer, depends on what stage it is discovered in. Mouth cancer is given a stage when diagnosed. They are as follows:

State 0: Abnormal cells in the lining of the lips or mouth are discovered,

Stage 1: A tumor less than 2 cm is discovered and lymph nodes are not affected,

Stage 2: A tumor larger than 2 cm is discovered but it is not larger than 4,

Stage 3: A tumor larger than 4 cm is discovered and cancer has spread to a lymph node in the neck,

Stage 4: A tumor of any size is discovered, but it has spread to nearby tissue, 1 large lymph node on the same side of the neck, multiple lymph nodes, and other parts of the body (lungs, liver, etc.)

Oral Cancer Symptoms

The symptoms of mouth cancer come in many forms and usually, someone with mouth cancer will have more than just one symptom at a time. They can include:

  • Sores in the mouth and on the lips that do not heal
  • White or reddish discoloration on the roof, floor or walls of the mouth, as well as tongue and gums
  • Loose teeth
  • A lump on your cheeks, gums, lips or on your mouth
  • Pain in the mouth, neck, gums or lips
  • Difficulty swallowing, including experiencing pain when swallowing

It should be noted, though, that most incidents of these symptoms, if they are singular in occurrence, are not mouth cancer. Even if a person experiences more than one symptom, it likely is not mouth cancer. There’s a saying that “common things occur commonly”. For instance if you hear hoof beats, you are more likely to encounter a horse rather than a zebra. However if you are unsure, contact your dentist to have them take a look.

If an individual has more than one of these symptoms at a time, though, the wise course of action is to get them checked out by a medical professional.

Causes and Risk Factors

While the direct link to the causation of mouth cancer is not known, what is known are factors and behaviors that can increase the likelihood a person will develop it.

Risk factors can include, but are not limited to:

Tobacco: Using tobacco in any form can increase your risk of getting mouth cancer. Some studies have shown that the risk factor can be as high as 80%.

Alcohol: Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol has been shown to be a major risk factor for getting mouth cancer. In fact, most who are diagnosed with mouth cancer are also heavy drinkers.

Gender: Men are more likely to get mouth cancer, which might be because men tend to use tobacco products and drink excessively more than women.

Age: People over 60 have higher rates of mouth cancer although a quarter of all diagnosis happen to those under the age of 55.

Sun Exposure: Cancers that develop in the lip are more prevalent in people who spend a lot of time in the sun or frequent tanning beds.

Oral Cancer Prevention

Early diagnosis by your dentist, while not preventing cancer, is key to treating it effectively.

Other ways to prevent mouth cancer in any form:

  • Quit smoking
  • Drink in moderation
  • Avoid sun or tanning bed exposure

Visit Your Dentist

There is a chance that your primary doctor will discover you have mouth cancer, but it is much less of a chance than visiting a dentist, who deals with mouth issues all day, every day.

If you have any of the symptoms listed or if you are worried you may be at higher risk, schedule a visit to your dentist today.