What is Oral Cancer?
Mouth cancer, sometimes referred to as oral cancer, develops in the oral cavity, which is your entire mouth that you can see when you open it wide and look in the mirror. lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, palate, and floor or roof of the mouth. Cells in the mouth or on the lips might mutate to cause oral cancer.
Oral cancer accounts for roughly three percent of all cancers diagnosed annually in the United States, or about 54,000 new cases in 2022.
Oral cancer most often occurs in people over the age of 40 and affects more than twice as many men as women. Most cancers in the mouth are related to tobacco use, drinking alcohol, or both, and most throat cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The incidence of HPV-positive oral cancer has risen in recent years.
Tobacco and alcohol use. Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarette, pipe and cigar, and electronic cigarette smoking, as well as chewing tobacco and snuff puts you at risk for developing oral cancers. Heavy alcohol use also increases the risk. Using both tobacco and alcohol increases the risk even further.
HPV. Infection with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (specifically the HPV 16 type) has been linked to oral cancers.
Age. Risk increases with age. Oral cancers most often occur in people over the age of 40.
Sun Exposure. Cancer of the lip can be caused by sun exposure.
Poor Nutrition. A diet low in fruits and vegetables has been linked with increased risk of oral cancer.
Genetics. People with inherited defects in certain genes have a high risk of mouth and middle throat cancer.
If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, see a dentist or a doctor.
- A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in your mouth, lip, or throat.
- A white or red patch in your mouth.
- Persistent sore throat, a feeling that something is caught in your throat, or hoarseness or loss of your voice.
- A lump in the neck.
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking.
- Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue.
- Swelling of your jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
- Pain or bleeding in the mouth.
- Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth.
- Ear pain.
Oral cancer is treated with surgery and possibly radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Oral cancer that is further along when it is diagnosed may need a combination of treatments.
Another treatment option is targeted therapy, which is a newer type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to precisely identify and attack cancer cells. Immunotherapy may also be a potential treatment; it can work with the body’s natural defenses to improve immune function. The choice of treatment depends on your general health, where in your mouth or throat the cancer began, the size and type of the tumor, and whether the cancer has spread.
Your doctor may refer you to a specialist. Specialists who treat oral cancer include:
- Head and neck surgeons.
- Dentists who specialize in surgery of the mouth, face, and jaw (oral and maxillofacial surgeons).
- Ear, nose, and throat doctors (otolaryngologists).
- Doctors who specifically treat cancer (medical and radiation oncologists).
Other healthcare professionals who may be part of a treatment team include dentists, plastic surgeons, reconstructive surgeons, speech pathologists, oncology nurses, registered dietitians, genetic counsellors, and mental health counsellors.