What Are the First Signs of Cancer In The Mouth

Cancer is quite possibly the diagnosis that everyone is most afraid of receiving. With so many different types of cancers, people feel more exposed than ever. One of the cancers that many people feel most exposed to is mouth cancer. 

Often also referred to as oral cancer, mouth cancer can develop in the tissues of the mouth or throat. This means it’s possible for mouth cancer to occur in the gums, tongue or even tonsils. While statistics show that men are more likely to have this type of cancer, the reality is that everyone is at risk.


How Prevalent Is Mouth Cancer?

Mouth cancer is diagnosed in 8, 800 people each year in the UK, that is approximately 24 each day. The study also shows that most cases of mouth cancer first develop in older adults aged between 50 and 74 years old. 

In instances where mouth cancer is found in younger adults, it’s often a result of an HPV infection. On average there are 11,230 deaths annually from oral cancer or related complications.

Understanding the Most Common Symptoms of Mouth Cancer

Essentially, there are several different symptoms to look out for if you feel you are at risk of developing mouth cancer. While it’s true that cancer symptoms vary from person to person, there are a few common signs that your practitioner will keep an eye out for. 

A list of the most common symptoms that may suggest the onset of cancer include the following:

  • Mouth ulcers or sores that do not heal
  • Swelling in the jaw
  • Continued difficulty in chewing or swallowing
  • Poorly fitting dentures (especially ones that previously fitted correctly)
  • Patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue – these are usually red or white in colour
  • Continuous bleeding, numbness or pain in the mouth
  • Unexplained lumps in the mouth
  • Thickening of the gums 
  • Unexplainable instances of loose teeth
  • Continued instances of sore throats combined with a feeling that something is stuck in the throat
  • Unusually hoarse voice
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Continuous ear pain that doesn’t have any other cause
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant bad breath

It’s important to emphasize that experiencing a few of these symptoms simultaneously doesn’t necessarily mean that you have oral cancer. Many of these symptoms can be indicative of other medical conditions. 

If you are experiencing several symptoms at once, it’s always recommended to visit your dental practitioner. Whether or not the underlying issue is cancer-related, your doctor will help you to get to the root cause and provide or suggest the best course of treatment. 

Instances That Increase the Risk Of Mouth Cancer

Scientists believe that there the primary causes of mouth cancer can be attributed to damage or mutations in the body’s genetic code that primarily controls cell growth. 

With that in mind, several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing mouth cancer. Some of the more significant risk factors are discussed below.

Excessive Tobacco Use

Quite possibly the highest risk of developing oral cancer comes from smoking cigarettes, pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco. Smokeless tobacco products also place users at risk. It’s important to note that there isn’t a “safe” type of tobacco to smoke. 

The chemicals found in tobacco smoke are capable of generating changes in the cells found in the mouth cavity. On average, about 75% to 90% of people who develop cancer are regular smokers. 

Large Alcohol Consumption

Doctors have found that heavy drinkers are twice as likely to be diagnosed with various types of oral cancer. People who consume excessive alcohol in conjunction with smoking place themselves at even more risk. In general, the chemicals found in alcohol can act as an irritant in the mouth and throat. As with smoking, these irritants can lead to cell changes that cause cancer cells to grow and spread.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Cancers that stem from HPV are usually found at the back of the throat, the tonsils or even the base of the tongue. Recent studies have shown that cases of oral cancer with HPV as the cause are on the increase. One of the top risks of cancer stemming from HPV is that it can often take years to realise that the cancer cells are present.

Sun Exposure

Excessive sun exposure to your lips can considerably increase your chances of mouth cancer. This happens when cells are damaged by UV rays and if enough cells are damaged, these cells can start growing out of control and can lead to cancer. To reduce the risk, be sure to use a lip balm or face cream that contains the necessary SPF.

Pre-existing Cancer Condition

Patients who already have any type of head or neck cancer are more at risk. This is because cancer cells often spread to other organs such as the mouth or throat. 

What Treatment Is Best For Mouth Cancer?

Not all treatment procedures for mouth cancer are the same. Essentially, treatment will depend on a few factors. These include:

  • The individual’s overall health
  • Type of cancer
  • Location and stage of cancer
  • Patients’ treatment preferences

In general, surgery is the main treatment for oral cancer. This usually means removing the cancerous tumour and in some instances even the lymph nodes in the neck if it appears as though the cancer has spread. Often the patient will receive a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. 

Steps To Minimize The Risk

Fortunately, oral cancer is regarded as one of the more preventable forms of cancer. Most practitioners agree that the most significant way to prevent mouth cancer is to quit smoking if you’re a smoker. 

There are additional steps that you can take to reduce the risk of developing mouth cancer. The most significant of these include:

  • Limit sun exposure, especially to your face
  • If you drink alcohol, be sure to do it in moderation
  • Wear sunscreen as well as an SPF lip balm
  • Practice good oral health habits
  • Have regular visits to your dental practitioner to check for signs
  • Report any symptoms to your dentist for a thorough examination
  • Remove your dentures at night, clean them daily with the necessary products

Final Thought

It’s evident that the two top causes of mouth cancer stem from excessive smoking and alcohol consumption. That said, many dental practitioners recommend patients stop smoking and drink in moderation. Being aware of the causes of mouth cancer makes it so much easier for you to take the necessary steps to reduce your risk of contracting it. 

Good oral hygiene habits and regular visits to your dental practitioner will help spot the signs early enough to effectively treat them. Early identification can potentially lead to less invasive forms of treatment.

Certified practitioners at Shine Dental have the necessary experience to assist you with all your dental needs, including identifying the early signs of mouth cancer. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms discussed in this article, schedule an appointment with our team today!

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