What do we mean by ‘mouth cancer’? Mouth cancer is a colloquial term for oral cancer.
Oral cancer is cancer that starts in cells that make up the inside of the mouth or the lips. Although oral cancer does not get much media attention, it is actually fairly common. In Australia, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says oral cancers are the seventh most commonly diagnosed cancer. They estimate about 5000+ cases will be diagnosed this year.
The most common type of oral cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (approximately 90%).
The presentation can take many forms. Early lesions are usually asymptomatic—commonly seen as a white/red patches or ulcer on the lateral borders of the tongue and lip that does not go away within a couple of weeks and pain is seldom present. Early diagnosis is the most important factor influencing prognosis. A healthcare provider or dentist often finds oral cancer in its early stages because the mouth and lips are easy to examine.
Oral cancer can be very aggressive and have debilitating consequences. I very vividly remember a 45-year-old man consult with me for an ulcer on his tongue. Suspecting that it was an oral cancer, I sent that across to an oral medicine specialist and the next time I saw that client, he had half his tongue and half his mandible (lower jaw) removed. So depending on the stage of the cancer, it can be quite aggressive.
An important thing to know is that oral cancer isn’t just something smokers get. The key thing to know is just because you don’t have symptoms doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
The risk of oral cancer increases at 40 years of age onwards. There are other risk factors as well, however, as the exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. Some risk factors may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change.
Risk factors include:
What I understand is that you can see symptoms in the mouth fairly early on in the case of when you have cancer. But it’s easier for a dentist to spot than it is for you. Some people don’t find the cancer until it is relatively advanced because there might not be any pain or symptoms.
Oral cancer is often found because a person notices changes in their mouth. The symptoms of oral cancer include:
Oral cancer is often found during routine dental check-up as usually early presentation is painless and people are unaware. If your dentist thinks you may have oral cancer, they’ll refer you to an oral medicine specialist for further investigation.
Early diagnosis is key.
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