Mouth cancer refers to a group of malignancies which develop around the oral area of the human body or the outside of the mouth. As such, cancer of the mouth can occur in the lips, gums, tongue, the inner lining of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth, and the floor of the mouth. Mouth cancer is generally regarded as a group of malignancies which fall into the category of head and neck cancers and should be taken seriously since these diseases can pose a serious threat to one’s health.
As dentists, our calling is not just to treat dental and oral problems, prevention is also an essential part of our profession.
In the following article, we will cover everything you need to know about mouth cancer and answer questions such as “what causes mouth cancer?” and “what are the main symptoms of mouth cancer?”.
First of all, we need to cover the telltale-signs of mouth cancer. Symptoms include a variety of different conditions, such as bleeding sores that don’t heal after two weeks, growths, lumps or thickening of the skin or lining of the mouth, loose teeth, pain in the tongue, poorly fitting dentures, stiffness or pain in the jaw, difficulties and pain when chewing or swallowing, and a sore throat.
Cancers generally occur when cells in a given organ develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. These changes allow cancer cells to continue growing and dividing. The abnormal cancerous cells accumulate at a rapid pace forming a tumor in the given area. In time, cancer cells may spread inside the body, attacking other organs or parts of the body. In the case of mouth cancer, cells can spread to other oral regions or parts of the head & neck.
Mouth cancers most often start to develop in the flat thin cells that line the lips and the inside of the mouth (these are called squamous cells).
For now, it is not clear what exactly causes these mutations in the cells that lead to cancer development. However, doctors have outlined certain factors that may increase the risk of developing these malignancies.
Certain conditions and habits may increase one’s risk of developing mouth cancers. These include things such as tobacco use (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco), excessive sun exposure to the lips, alcohol abuse, HPV, also known as the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. Last but not least, a weakened immune system may also contribute to developing mouth cancer.
Unfortunately, there’s no proven way to prevent mouth cancer but there are ways to reduce the risks.
- One of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing mouth cancer is to stop using tobacco in all its forms. Using tobacco exposes the cells in your mouth to dangerous chemicals.
- Try to lower your alcohol intake but it’s best to cut out alcohol altogether. Excessive alcohol consumption can irritate the cells in your mouth increasing the risk of developing cancer.
- Maintain a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Vitamins and antioxidants found in these foods may help reduce the risk of developing mouth cancer.
- Avoid excessive sun exposure to your lips.
- REGULARLY – as a part of your routine exam, ask your dentist to check your entire mouth for changes and abnormalities that may indicate serious problems.
While there’s no proven way to prevent mouth cancer, certain steps and lifestyle changes may dramatically decrease your risk of developing such malignancies. All this coupled with regular dental checkups may help to catch the disease early and to cure it with as little damage as possible.
Feel free to make an appointment with us if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that bother you and last more than two weeks. Don’t be scared, chances are, it’s nothing serious, but you’re better off on the safe side.
Again, catching a disease at an early stage is sometimes the best prevention.