Earlier this week I had a patient ask me during a check up what I’m looking for when I am looking around the outside and the inside of the mouth (other than teeth). I explained that I am looking for anything that looks out of the ordinary - any signs of oral cancer. She then asked if oral cancer was common. The last time I checked, it was about 3 times more common than cervical cancer (I just checked the statistics again - it’s now close to 5 times more common than oral cancer).
Oral cancer can occur on the face, lips, salivary glands, tongue, floor of the mouth, gums or the back of the throat.
“So what sorts of things are you looking for”
Based on the latest studies from the Australian Dental Association There are several symptoms that can cause us to be concerned that a patient of ours may have oral cancer, including:
- A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in the mouth, lip, or throat
- A chronic ulcer or blood blister in the mouth that does not heal
- A white or red patch in the mouth
- A feeling that something is caught in the throat
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
- Prolonged swollen glands
- A sore throat that does not go away
- Difficulty speaking, or a change in the voice
- Numbness in the tongue or other areas of the mouth
- Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
What can cause oral cancer?
As with all forms of cancer, there are many culprits. However, the risk is greater in people who smoke or drink alcohol frequently. It can also form on the lower lip, so use of an SPF lip balm is a great idea too.
Oral cancer is a particularly nasty form of cancer, but if it is picked up early treatment can be more successful. That is why I take the extra time to have a look - if I can see something that looks different we can investigate further.