While not as common as some other types of malignancies, oral cavity and oropharyngeal (head and neck) cancers can often be discovered during routine screening exams by a dentist, medical doctor, dental hygienist, or even by self-exam. Most head and neck cancers begin in squamous cells, which are cells that line moist surfaces, such as those inside the mouth, nose, sinuses and throat. Salivary gland cancer, another category of head and neck cancer, has many different forms because these glands are made up of many different types of cells that can become malignant. As you might suspect, tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, and infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) increase the risk of many types of head and
According to the American Cancer Society, some of the early warning signs and symptoms can include:
• A sore in the mouth that does not heal (most common symptom)
• Pain in the mouth that doesn’t go away (also very common)
• A lump or thickening in the cheek
• A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
• A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat that doesn’t go away
• Trouble chewing or swallowing
• Trouble moving the jaw or tongue
• Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth
• Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
• Loosening of the teeth or pain around the teeth or jaw
• Voice changes
• A lump or mass in the neck
• Weight loss
• Constant bad breath
Of course, many of these symptoms can also indicate conditions other than cancer; that is why it is so important to get regular dental and physical checkups. See your dentist or medical doctor right away if any of these symptoms lasts for more than two weeks.
What Causes Oral Cancer?
All cancers are caused by genetic changes in the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) inside our cells. DNA is the chemical in our cells that contains the genetic information needed for many factors, including how cells function. Just as every human being has unique DNA, or a distinctive genetic code, so does every malignant tumor. Cancer develops due to a genetic mutation, or damage to the DNA in our cells.
One of the factors that can increase your risk of mouth cancer is tobacco usage of any kind; this includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff, among others. Heavy alcohol use and excessive sun exposure to your lips can also increase your risk. In recent years, there has also been a rise in cases of oropharyngeal cancer linked to infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) in Caucasian men and women.
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