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February 11, 2022

17 Surprising Symptoms and Other Things You Didn’t Know About Oral Cancer

17 Surprising Symptoms and Other Things You Didn’t Know About Oral Cancer

Oral cancer symptoms are often mistaken for another, less serious mouth issue, such as canker sores, or issues related to general dental hygiene. While not every mouth sore is cancerous, it’s important to know what to look for so you can talk to your dentist sooner, not later.

If you have symptoms that last more than a couple of weeks without improving on their own, you should schedule a special appointment with your dentist. Ignoring signs of cancer can mean a delayed diagnosis, and that means the cancer is more difficult to treat.

What’s Categorized as Oral Cancer?

When we discuss oral cancer, it specifically refers to certain parts of the airway. The oral cavity, commonly called the mouth, in a medical sense is defined by the lips, interior lip and cheek tissue, the teeth, gums, the front parts of the tongue (excluding the back ⅓), the structure of the bottom of your mouth below the tongue, the roof of the mouth, and the spot behind your wisdom teeth (retromolar trigone). Cancer that affects or originates from these portions of the mouth is considered oral cancer, a type of head and neck cancer.

Most (95%) of oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers develop in the thin squamous cells that line the mouth and throat. As the cancer cells grow, they can spread into deeper tissue. The most common locations for cancer are the tongue, tonsils, gums, and soft palate. To help you with identifying issues that could be cancer, have a look at this list of oral cancer symptoms.

17 Oral Cancer Symptoms That Might Surprise You

Many people think oral cancer is a lump inside the mouth or a sore that doesn't heal. While that is a common sign of oral cancer, there are many more symptoms. Some of them may even surprise you. Symptoms can include:

  1. Mouth pain that doesn't get better
  2. Bleeding, pain, or numbness on the lip or in the mouth
  3. Any swelling, thickening, or rough, crusty, or eroded spots on the lips, gums, cheek, or inside the mouth
  4. A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth (leukoplakia), one of the most common symptoms, may bleed when you touch it. These are painless, precancerous lesions or sores that increase your risk of developing oral cancer in the future. Many people think because the sore isn't painful, it's harmless. However, the opposite is often true. If a mouth sore hurts, it's because you bit, scraped, or burned yourself or you have a minor viral infection. These sores usually clear up within a few weeks without treatment. If a sore does not hurt and does not heal, it should be evaluated for cancer. Cancer never heals spontaneously
  5. Painless lump or mass that can be felt inside the mouth, lips, or gums, especially if it's growing larger.
  6. Pain in the face muscles when chewing
  7. Numbness in the oral/facial area
  8. Pain or difficulty when speaking
  9. Pain in the teeth or jaw
  10. Jaw stiffness or swelling, or difficulty opening the jaw
  11. Earache that can spread to the jaws or cheeks
  12. The feeling of fullness in the ear, especially if you’ve confirmed you don’t have an ear infection or a current cold causing the feeling
  13. Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
  14. Loose teeth, a sign of gum cancer
  15. A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down
  16. Dentures that start to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  17. Unexplained weight loss; can be caused by problems chewing and swallowing

Who is at Risk for Oral Cancer?

While there are a variety of different reasons that you may develop oral cancer, the leading causes continue to be tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. Current estimates suggest that 80% of individuals who become oral cancer patients smoke, and 70% are considered heavy drinkers.

Reducing or eliminating tobacco use can help to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer. Tobacco use is considered smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars. Chewing tobacco is also associated with increased oral cancer risk. Read our blog for 10 tips for quitting tobacco use to reduce lung and oral cancer risk.

While drinking any amount of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of developing oral cancer, people who drink 3.5 drinks or more per day are at two to three times increased risk. Alcohol consumption includes any type of alcohol, such as beer, wine, or liquor.

A third leading factor associated with developing oral cancer is the presence of HPV, the Human Papillomavirus. This virus causes several different types of cancer, including oral cancer. Fortunately, a vaccine is available to help prevent HPV infections, reducing the likelihood of developing oral cancer from HPV.

Oral Cancer Screening at the Dentist and at Home

Oral cancer screening is a part of your routine dental exams. Ensuring that you keep your regular dentist appointments can help to detect cancer early, when it’s most treatable. Your dentist can check for signs of oral cancer in your mouth, on your tongue, and in your throat. Any unusual discoloration, lumps, or sores will be worth looking into further. This is also the time to talk to your dentist about any of the unusual symptoms mentioned above. That’s because oral cancer can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.

If found early, it may be treated with one or a combination of therapies, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. It's important to have any sore or discolored area in your mouth which does not heal within a couple of weeks evaluated by your dentist.

Getting the Oral Cancer Care You Need in Chicago

Affiliated Oncologists offers community-based care throughout the South Chicago suburb area, including Chicago Ridge, Hazel Crest, Mokena, and Palos Heights. We're changing the landscape of patient care with our patient-centered team approach that gives you the latest therapies, technologies, and research – all specifically tailored to your needs.

If you have questions or concerns about oral cancer and your health, please contact us at Affiliated Oncologists to schedule your appointment. Additionally, if you need more information about oral cancer, consider visiting our other pages that discuss diagnosis, staging, and treatment options.

Categories: Head and Neck Cancers