Oral cancer can manifest itself in the form of growths or sores on the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx. If not diagnosed and treated early, oral cancer can be fatal.
Oral cancer can cause swelling, thickening, lumps, bumps, rough spots, crusts, eroded areas, or velvety white, red, or speckled patches in the mouth. It can also cause bleeding in the mouth or numbness, pain, or tenderness in the face, mouth, or neck. Oral cancer can cause sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within two weeks, a soreness or feeling that something is stuck in the back of the throat, or difficulty chewing, swallowing, talking, or moving the jaw or tongue. Oral cancer can also cause hoarseness, chronic sore throat, change in the voice, ear pain, a change in the way the teeth or dentures fit together, or dramatic weight loss.
According to the American Cancer Society, men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer as women. Men over 50 have the greatest risk. Other risk factors include smoking, using smokeless tobacco, excessive drinking of alcohol, excessive sun exposure, and family history of cancer. Over a quarter of oral cancers are found in people who did not smoke or drink excessively.
Many dentists believe that oral cancers can be detected through screenings. The American Dental Association and the American Cancer Society recommend oral cancer screening.
Your dentist can check for signs of oral cancer during a routine exam. If your dentist notices lesions in your mouth, he or she can perform additional tests to determine whether they are or may become cancerous.
One procedure involves coating lesions with a blue dye. If an area appears darker than the rest of the mouth, it is more likely to be or become cancerous.
Another procedure involves rinsing the mouth with a fluorescent rinse and then looking at the mouth with a special light. Abnormal tissue looks different when seen under the light.
Exfoliative cytology involves scraping cells from the mouth or lip with a piece of cotton, brush, or small wooden stick. The cells are viewed under a microscope to see if they are abnormal.
A brush biopsy involves using a brush to collect cells from all the layers of a lesion. The cells are studied under a microscope to see if they are abnormal.
Some tests can detect oral cancer early and improve survival rates. It is important to see your dentist for regular exams and oral cancer screenings.