Oral Cancer can be defined as any cancerous tissue growth that occurs in the oral cavity. It is a head and neck cancer subtype that may start as a lesion originating in the oral tissues, by mestastasis (originating from a distant site), or by extension (from an adjacent anatomic structure like the nasal cavity). Oral cancers may also originate in the tissues of the mouth, varying in histologic types, from adenocarcinoma to teratoma, tonsillar, lymphoma, or melanoma. Of the different types of oral cancers, about 90% are squamous cell carcinomas, which originate in the tissues of the mouth and lips. Many oral cancers also involve the tongue, gums, the floor of the mouth, palate, and the cheek lining.
Like any type of cancer, early detection is key to getting timely treatment and triumphing over oral cancer. In fact, the 5-year survival rate for those diagnosed with localized disease is 81%, which is significantly higher than 30% for those whose cancer has affected other parts of the body. Most signs of a beginning oral cancer can easily be felt and seen, such as changes in the tissues of the mouth.
Warning Signs of Oral Cancer
Red or white lesions could be seen as precursors to oral cancer. Leukoplakia or white lesions are more common than erythroplakia or red lesions, though lesions that have erythroplakic components are more worrisome, as they have greater potential for being cancerous. White or red lesions that do not resolve themselves in two weeks should be considered for biopsy and reevaluation for a proper diagnosis.
Other possible signs and symptoms associated with oral cancer include a thickening or a lump in the soft tissues of the oral cavity, soreness, difficulty in swallowing or chewing, a sensation of having something caught in the throat, ear pain, hoarseness, difficulty in moving the tongue or the jaw, and numbness or swelling of the tongue and other mouth areas. If you experience these problems persistently over the course of two weeks or longer, you may want to consider a thorough clinical examination with a series of laboratory tests to get a definitive diagnosis.
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
Age is one common factor in the development of oral cancers. Most patients are typically in their mid 60’s to mid 70’s, and incidence of the disease rises steadily with age. Longer exposure to risk factors like tobacco and excessive alcohol use are also part of the main reason why oral cancer is considered a disease for older people. Men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women.