Key Indications of Mouth Cancer
Although the most common forms of cancer are prostate, lung, skin, and breast, there are over 100 types — some which are more severe than others. Of these, mouth cancer isn't as widely discussed. In terms of risk factors, tobacco significantly increases one's risk, accounting for approximately two-thirds of all mouth cancer cases.
There are both early and late warning signs, so any abnormal symptoms should be viewed by a medical professional. When caught early, oral cancer is one of the most preventable. Once advanced, it's much harder to treat, taking the lives of over 9,500 Americans each year. The following 7 signs may indicate mouth cancer is developing.
7. A Sore That Doesn't Heal
When suffering from mouth cancer, individuals often experience painful sores, known as ulcers. With that being said, broken areas of skin are not always painful, even if they are caused by cancer. They are generally yellow or red in color, appearing without any obvious cause, such as a sharp tooth which needs to be addressed.
If a mouth ulcer does not heal after three weeks, it needs to be examined by a physician. In many cases, a lesion is diagnosed as being precancerous. This means that although cells are abnormal, they are confined to the mouth lining. Once these cells develop below the mucosal lining, a malignancy can then progress into oral cancer.
6. Damaged Teeth
A number of studies have concluded periodontal disease increases one's risk of oral cancer. Loose teeth may also be its own independent risk factor, as oral cancer causes chronic trauma to the oral mucosa. When biting down, some patients notice their teeth do not fit together as they once did. This can be due to a tumor on the jawbone, causing teeth to shift.
5. A White or Red Patch Inside Mouth
When areas of cells are abnormal, they can appear to be white or red. The white patches are known as leukoplakia, whereas the red patches are known as erythroplakia. Although these patches are not necessarily cancer, if left untreated, they can develop into mouth cancer. Since they can be precancerous, catching them early could prevent the spread of abnormal, cancerous cells.
Only about 5 percent of those with white patches develop cancer, whereas approximately 50 percent of red patches become cancerous. In order to test these patches, doctors take a sample of the affected area — better known as a biopsy. In many cases, a fungal infection is to blame, which can be treated.
4. A Lump in the Neck
If a lump develops in your neck, this could indicate an enlarged lymph node. This is a common warning sign in both mouth and oropharyngeal cancers. If the lump is red, hot, or painful, it could mean an infection has developed and is probably not cancerous. The same is true for lumps which come and go. When a lump is cancerous, it generally forms and grows slowly. Some also experience a lump on their lip, in their mouth, or throat.
3. Swelling, Thickening, and Rough Spots
Normally gums are smooth, but in the case of mouth cancer, they become almost sandy in texture. More commonly a firm, rough mass will develop. Some notice that their skin becomes thicker, while others experience swelling in their lymph glands. As inflammation increases, the ability to swallow can become more challenging.
2. Nerve Changes
Nerves that provide feeling to the tongue and lower lip can be affected, causing changes in feeling. Some experience numbness, while other notice tingling — almost like pins and needles. For those that suffer from diabetic nerve damage, it is similar to those sensations, but instead, is felt within the mouth. When nerve damage occurs, earaches may also develop due to the fibers that connect the tongue to the ear.
1. Bad Breath
Obviously bad breath alone does not indicate cancer, however, persistent bad breath may indicate an early warning sign of cancerous cells. Bad breath may be a sign of oral, stomach, esophageal, pulmonary, or pharyngeal cancer. In many cases, this is due to decay.
Of course, if you're a smoker, this can also contribute to bad breath. Through a combination of dry mouth, bacteria, and the tobacco itself, bad breath develops. Since oral health is generally a good indication of overall health, seek a full dental exam if you're worried about problematic symptoms.