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Symptoms of Oral Cancers

Posted on August 4, 2015 | in Oral Systemic Dentistry | by

What Are Head & Neck Cancers?

According to the experts at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center – doctors in other words, not overly caffeinated dental health blog post writers – head and neck cancer encompasses a wide range of tumors that can develop in several areas of the head and neck, including the throat, larynx (voice box), nose, sinuses, and mouth.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, cancer of the oral cavity (mouth) – more commonly referred to as oral cancer or mouth cancer – is the most common type of head and neck cancer.

According to Sloan Kettering, nearly 30,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed in the US each year.

To hear it right from the doctor’s mouth, watch this video for some straight talk about head, neck, & oral (mouth) cancer:


Where Does Oral Cancer Start?

Oral cancer can develop in or around your mouth. This includes all areas in around & on your lips, your gums, your cheeks, the area behind your molars or wisdom teeth, the floor and roof (hard palate) of your mouth, and the front of your tongue.

Most people diagnosed with oral cancer (or mouth cancer) first have it show up in the tongue, the lip, the floor of the mouth, and the minor salivary glands.

As we’ve discussed in this post, there are some tips we can follow to prevent oral cancer development & mitigate risk factors.

Who Is at the Highest Risk for Oral Cancer?

There are generally three main risk factors for oral cancer, these are:

– Smoking
Chewing tobacco
– Excessive alcohol use

Combine these risk factors, and you or someone you love may be as much as 100 times more likely to develop oral cancer than those who neither smoke nor drink. (Source: Sloan Kettering)

Think it’s time to kick the butts & spit the chew once and for all?

But it’s not just smokers, baseball players, cowboys & heavy drinkers that need to heed the oral cancer prevention message.

Additional oral cancer risk factors include infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Can You Die from Oral Cancer?

The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cancers which we hear about routinely such as cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, and endocrine system cancers such as thyroid, or skin cancer (malignant melanoma).

These numbers don’t even account for oral and oropharyngeal cancers to include cancer of the larynx, for which the numbers of diagnosed cases grow to approximately 54,000 individuals, and 13,500 deaths per year in the U.S. alone. (Source: Oral Cancer Foundation).

Although curable and preventable – as far as cancer goes – oral cancer can also be deadly.

We can all learn the importance of prevention and early identification from some of the recent higher-profile oral & mouth cancer experiences like the battle Michael Douglas & Curt Schilling endured.

And for more info on the HPV oral cancer connection, check out this video of Katie Couric interviewing Blythe Danner about her husband’s fight with oral cancer.

Get Screened for Oral Cancer at Your Dentist

Many oral cancers are found during a routine dental examination, and most of these cancers can be cured if discovered early enough.

An oral cancer screening is an essential part of every dental exam, and should be done at least annually according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.

The most common oral cancer symptoms include:

– a sore or lump on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal.
– a white and/or red patch on the gums, tongue, or cheeks (these white or red areas may also be a precancerous condition called dysplasia).
– unusual or persistent bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth.
– swelling that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.

If you notice any of these oral cancer symptoms or warning signs, talk with your dentist & GET SCREENED ASAP!

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+Chris Barnard is Managing Editor of, a patient-centric Social Dental Network blog dedicated to enabling the digital dental health conversation - and the eradication of the cavity creeps.
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