Oral cancer is any malignant growth found in the mouth or throat. These cancers typically begin on the tongue or on the bottom of your mouth. Because of their location, they are highly treatable especially when caught early. 

Types of mouth cancer can involve either the lips, the front two-thirds of the tongue, the gums, the lining inside the cheeks and lips, the bottom of the mouth under the tongue, the hard palate (bony top of mouth), or the small area of gum behind the wisdom teeth.

Mouth cancer usually occurs in people over the age of 45, but can develop at any age.

According to the American Cancer Society, men face twice the risk of developing oral cancer as women, and men who are over age 50 have the greatest risk of developing the disease.

The treatment for mouth cancer depends on the stage of cancer and its location, as well as your overall health and personal preferences. It could involve one type of treatment, or a combination of cancer treatments. 

Symptoms of Mouth Cancer (Oral)

Symptoms of oral cancer may include any of the following:

  • dental problems 
  • lump in your neck 
  • pain while swallowing 
  • persistent earaches 
  • swellings/thickenings, lumps or bumps, rough spots/crusts/or eroded areas on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth
  • development of velvety white, red, or speckled (white and red) patches in the mouth
  • unexplained bleeding in the mouth
  • unexplained numbness, loss of feeling, or pain/tenderness in any area of the face, mouth, or neck
  • mouth sores that will not heal
  • persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within 2 weeks
  • a feeling that something is caught or sore in the back of the throat
  • difficulty chewing or swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or change in voice
  • change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together
  • dramatic weight loss
  • ear pain                               

These symptoms could be signs of a number of health conditions so see your MedStar Health doctor to determine the cause. It’s important to see your dentist twice a year for your teeth cleaning and mouth cancer screening. 

Mouth Cancer Risks

No one knows why a malignant or cancerous growth begins to grow. However, there are certain risk factors for oral cancer.

These may include:

  • smoking
  • excessive alcohol use
  • family history of head and neck cancer 
  • excessive sun exposure at a young age
  • males are at a higher risk than females
  • older than age 40 

Cigarette, cigar, or pipe smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop oral cancers. Smokeless tobacco users of dip, snuff, or chewing tobacco products are 50 times more likely to develop cancers of the cheek, gums, and lining of the lips. 

Mouth cancers are about six times more common in drinkers than in nondrinkers.

Despite this, it’s important to note that over 25 percent of all oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and who only drink alcohol occasionally.

At Washington Cancer Institute, a comprehensive team of specialists and subspecialists work together on individual treatment plans involving the efforts of surgeons, radiation oncologists, chemotherapy oncologists, dental practitioners, nutritionists, and rehabilitation and restorative specialists.

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