Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is defined as the uncontrollable growth of cells which invade and cause damage to surrounding tissue. Mouth caner can occur anywhere in the mouth, on the surface of the tongue, the lips, inside the cheek, in the gums, in the roof and floor of the mouth or palate, in the tonsils, and in the salivary glands, the surface of the tongue, the insides of the cheeks. It appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not go away. Mouth cancer includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses and throat. Tumors can also develop in the glands that produce saliva, the tonsils at the back of the mouth, and the part of the throat connecting your mouth to your pharynx.
Mouth cancer is a type of head and neck cancer and is often treated similarly to other head and neck cancers. It can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.
Mouth cancer mostly happens after the age of 40, and the risk is more than twice as high in men as it is in women.
During the early stages, there are often no signs or symptoms, but smokers and heavy drinkers should have regular checkups with the dentist, as they may identify early signs.
The most common signs and symptoms of oral cancer include:
- velvety white, red, or speckled (white and red) patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue
- unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- persistent sores or mouth ulcers on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within 2 weeks
- swellings, lumps or bumps, rough spots or eroded areas on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth that persist for over 3 weeks
- lumps or thickening of the skin or lining of the mouth
- difficulty in chewing or swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
- pain when swallowing
- looseness of teeth with no apparent reason
- poorly fitting dentures
- weight loss
- ear pain
- jaw pain or stiffness
- chronic sore throat
- persistent numbness or an odd feeling on the lip or tongue
- a sensation that something is stuck in the throat
- tongue pain
- hoarseness or change in voice
- neck pain that don’t go away
- sockets that don’t heal after extractions
Having any of these symptoms does not mean that you have mouth cancer, but if you notice any of these changes, contact your dentist or health care professional immediately.
Treatment depends on the location and stage of the cancer, and the patient’s general health and personal preferences. It is necessary for a combination of treatments to cure mouth cancer.