Cancers Of The Oral Cavity
The main divisions of oral cancers are into those cancers occurring in the oral cavity versus in the throat. Oral cavity cancer may affect the lips, inner cheeks, tongue, gums, or the roof of your mouth. Any and all soft tissue inside your mouth is a potential area where oral cancer could strike.
It's not totally clear what causes oral cancer, so experts speak of "risks" rather than "causes" technically. Smoking tobacco products, the HPV virus (sexually transmitted), and poor oral hygiene are the leading risk factors, but heredity also seems to play a role.
Symptoms of oral cancer in your oral cavity include:
- Red and white spots, sores, or patches in your mouth.
- Pain, hyper-sensitivity, or numbness in parts of your oral cavity or on your lips.
- A lump in the mouth that does not disappear on its own within a couple of weeks.
- Difficulty chewing and speaking.
- Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue.
- A change in how your teeth align (or fail to align) when you close your mouth.
- Pain and inflammation in the jaw, sometimes causing dentures to no longer fit properly.
- Teeth that are painful or feel like they are loosening.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Unexplained halitosis (chronic bad breath.)
The second major class of oral cancers is that affecting the region known as the "oropharynx," which includes the throat, tonsils, base and back of the tongue, and the softer back portion of the roof of the mouth.
Many of the same risk factors and symptoms that apply to cancer of the oral cavity apply also to cancer of the oropharynx. Additional symptoms to look for include:
- A persistently sore, irritated throat.
- A hoarse or otherwise changed voice.
- The feeling of a lump in the throat or as if something were caught in one's throat.
- Difficulty swallowing.
Oral cancers overall have a 60% 5-year survival rate, which is higher than for many other forms of cancer. And yet, there is evidence to suggest that earlier detection would have helped raise that survival rate significantly higher. The difficulty with spotting the very early cancers complicates the survival rate. Early cancers can be very very small and hard to distinguish from other oral tissues, especially if there is inflammation from lack of oral hygiene.
Annual oral cancer screening exams, along with any additional exams when you fear you may have relevant symptoms, does much to reduce risk and to make for early detection and early treatment.
Your periodontist will examine your oral cavity for any abnormalities. This includes gums, cheeks, palate, and also the lips. He will also feel your neck for any lumps and examine your tongue, tonsils, and the back of your throat. Most abnormalities turn out to be benign, but your periodontist may run tests and recommend follow-up in some cases.
For more information on oral cancer awareness, prevention, and screening, or to set an appointment with an experienced periodontist in Central Florida, contact Dr. Raymond A. Kenzik's office today.