OTTAWA, ONTARIO– According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, around 43,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. Unfortunately, oral cancer is often discovered late in its development. Trillium dental, a family practice, is able to detect oral cancer during routine dental examinations.

Mouth cancer occurs when cells in the mouth or lips form mutations in the DNA, allowing cancer cells to grow, divide and possibly form a tumor. Mouth cancers usually begin to form in the flat, thin cells that line the lips and the inside of the mouth. However, cancer cells may also spread to other areas of the mouth, head, neck, or other parts of the body.

Signs and Symptoms

Oftentimes people mistake the symptoms of oral cancer for another ailment. It is important to analyze these precursors and be certain of all conditions. Signs and symptoms of mouth cancer may include:

  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • A lump or thickening of the skin or lining of the mouth
  • A white or reddish patch on the inside of the mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Tongue pain
  • Jaw pain or stiffness
  • Difficult or painful chewing
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • A sore throat
  • The feeling like something is caught in the throat

Increased Risk

People who smoke and drink alcohol are more at risk of developing oral cancers. Approximately 70% of patients with oral cancer are heavy drinkers. Factors that can increase your risk of mouth cancer include:

  • Tobacco use, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Excessive sun exposure to your lips
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Mouthwash
  • Low intake of fruits and vegetables with beta-carotene
  • Low intake of Vitamin C and fiber

Testing and Diagnosis

Tests and procedures used to diagnose mouth cancer can be done to detect early symptoms. Our dentists will examine your lips and mouth to look for abnormalities, sores and white patches. If any abnormalities are found, a sample of cells is cut or scraped off for laboratory testing in a biopsy. The cells are analyzed for cancer or precancerous variations, indicating a risk of future cancer.

If mouth cancer is diagnosed, doctors then determine the stage of the cancer. They can do this by using a lighted scope to inspect the throat and look for signs that the cancer has spread beyond the mouth in an endoscopy. Depending on the condition, doctors may also take X-rays, an MRI, CT scans, or a PET scan.

Perform a Self-Exam Monthly

To be precautious perform an oral cancer self-exam using a mirror and a light.

  • Remove any dentures
  • Look and feel inside the lips and the front of gums
  • Tilt head back to inspect and feel the roof of your mouth
  • Pull the cheek out to see its inside surface as well as the back of the gums
  • Pull out your tongue and look at all of its surfaces
  • Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes on both sides of the neck

Perform self-examinations and inspect the mouth for the following:

  • Red and/or white patches
  • A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
  • An abnormal lump or thickening of the tissues of the mouth
  • Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • A mass or lump in the neck

If you exhibit the signs or symptoms, contact Trillium Dental today to get screened and referred to a specialist. Treatment for mouth cancer depends on the cancer location and stage, as well as the overall health and personal preferences of the individual.

Treatment for Oral Cancer

Radiation therapy uses powerful rays to kill cancer cells. External beam radiation therapy is delivered from a machine outside of the body. Brachytherapy uses radioactive seeds and wires, which are placed near the cancer. Radiation therapy may be the only treatment used in cases of early-stage mouth cancer. Radiation therapy can also be used after surgery or combined with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy may help relieve the symptoms brought on by the cancer, such as pain.

Side effects of radiation therapy to your mouth may include dry mouth, tooth decay, mouth sores, bleeding gums, jaw stiffness, fatigue and red skin reactions.

Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy, so the two are often combined.

Side effects of chemotherapy depend on which drugs you receive. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting and hair loss.

If a tumor is present, doctors may perform surgery to remove it. The surgeon cuts away the tumor and some of the healthy adjoining tissue. Smaller cancers may be removed through a more minor surgery. Removing a large tumor may require removing a section of the jawbone or a portion of the tongue. If cancer spreads to the lymph nodes in the neck, then the surgeon may perform a neck dissection, removing the cancerous lymph nodes and related tissue in the neck.

As always, surgery carries a risk of bleeding and infection. Surgery for mouth cancer can also affect a person’s appearance and their ability to speak, eat and swallow. There are specialists to help people with these changes.

Targeted drugs treat mouth cancer by altering specific aspects of cancer cells that fuel their growth. Targeted drugs can be used in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Cetuximab is a targeted therapy used for treating certain head and neck cancers. Other targeted drugs are being studied in clinical trials.

Regular check-ups and awareness help reduce the risk oral cancer. Oral cancer is the largest group of cancers that fall into the head and neck cancer category. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, this is the fifth year in a row that there has been an increase in the rate of oral cancers. Schedule your screening today.