Every year, Mouth Cancer Action Month takes place in November. But, even though we dedicate an entire month to calling attention to it, there is very little public knowledge about mouth cancer. This year, let’s give Mouth Cancer Action Month the awareness that it deserves.
In this post, we define what mouth cancer is, discuss potential risk factors, and explore shocking facts about oral cancer. This information could end up saving more than just your smile–it could save your life, too.
What is Mouth Cancer?
Also called oral cancer, mouth cancer refers to abnormal cellular growth that originates and spreads from the oral cavity. Classified as a type of head and neck cancer, mouth cancer can develop in any oral structure, including the:
- Hard palate (the roof of the mouth)
- Floor of the mouth (under the tongue)
- Soft palate (toward the back of the throat)
Due to low visibility, mouth cancers are often extremely difficult for unskilled professionals to detect. Subsequently, frequent visits with a trained dentist may be the only way patients learn that they have the disease. Nevertheless, there are some telltale signs that something may be amiss in your mouth.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Mouth Cancer?
There are numerous signs and symptoms of mouth cancer, including:
- Red or white bumps in the mouth
- General or localized oral pain
- Numbness or tingling
- Difficulty eating, swallowing, speaking, or yawning
- Sores in the mouth or on the lips that bleed easily or do not heal
- New rough or crusty patches in the mouth
- Noticeable changes in dental alignment
- Earaches or tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- A sore throat or the sensation of a lump in the throat that doesn’t go away
- Chronic bad breath
- Unintentional weight loss
If any of these signs or symptoms persist for longer than 10 to 14 days, then contact your healthcare team immediately. Early diagnosis may lead to a better prognosis and expedite your recovery.
What Causes Mouth Cancer?
Flat, squamous cells line the soft tissues of our mouths. Ordinarily, healthy squamous cells multiply and shed regularly to keep our mouths operating optimally. But, molecular changes in the DNA found in squamous cells can lead to abnormal growth and, subsequently, oral cancer.
What are Common Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?
Experts believe that roughly 75% of people who develop mouth cancer partake in damaging behaviors and habits, like:
- Using tobacco products, like pipes, cigars, cigarettes, hookahs, and chew
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol regularly
- Excessive UV exposure without wearing sunscreen, especially on the face and lips
Other risk factors for oral cancer may include:
- A family history of mouth cancer
- The human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Sex (men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women)
- Race (Black and Hispanic individuals are more likely to develop life-threatening mouth cancer)
Facts and Statistics about Mouth Cancer
Although mouth cancer does not get the same amount of attention as other cancers, it is the most common type of head and neck cancer. Indeed, an estimated 54,000 Americans will receive a mouth or oropharyngeal cancer diagnosis this year. But, that’s not all–mouth cancer is deadly.
In fact, more people die from oral cancer than from commonly-known cancers, such as:
- Cervical cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Experts attribute oral cancer’s shocking death rates to late diagnosis. This is because many patients ignore (or aren’t aware of) the subtle signs of mouth cancer. Not only that, but mouth cancer isn’t always easy to see with the naked eye.
Although chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can eliminate mouth cancer, the survival rate is approximately 57% over five years. Subsequently, it’s best to schedule regular dental checkups to catch oral cancer as soon as possible.
How to Prevent Mouth Cancer
There are several things you can do to avoid oral cancer, including:
- Do not start using tobacco products
- If you’ve started, stop using tobacco products (including smokeless tobacco products) as soon as possible
- Limit alcoholic beverages to one or two servings per day
- Wear sunscreen daily (even on the lips!)
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet
Making even simple changes in your day-to-day life can have a significant impact on your oral and overall health.
In conjunction with a healthier lifestyle, we also recommend visiting your dentist at least once a year. Regular checkups with a trained dentist may help patients get a diagnosis before mouth cancer has a chance to spread, which increases your chances of survival after treatment.
Celebrate Mouth Cancer Action Month with a Dental Exam
This year, celebrate Mouth Cancer Action Month by scheduling a dental exam and cleaning with our practice.
Already scheduled your next dental exam? No problem! You can still take action. Simply spread awareness about oral cancer by posting a selfie to your social media accounts wearing blue lipstick with the hashtag #BlueLipSelfie.