Signs & Symptoms of Oral Cancer

By Dr. Elizabeth Eggert

When you open wide for your dental exam, you might think your teeth are the only focus of Dr. Elizabeth and Dr. Jeff.

Not true. Dental exams are also the first line of defense against oral cancer.
Oral cancers can develop in a variety of locations, including all parts of the tongue, the tissue lining the mouth and gums, and the area where the throat meets the back of the mouth.

Oral Cancer Risk Factors

Certain lifestyle choices increase the risk of developing oral cancer.
Tobacco use causes oral cancer as well as 15 other cancers, according to the Cancer Council. Tobacco consumption, via cigarette, e-cigarette, cigar, pipe or chewing tobacco, is known to increase cancer risk. While lung cancer may be the first dire consequence you associate with tobacco use, there are plenty of other ways smoking can kill you.

Heavy alcohol consumption, especially in combination with tobacco use, also increases cancer risk.

Sun exposure can cause cancer of the lip, so using a sunscreen lip balm is a good habit. Poor nutrition and consuming few vegetables and fruits may also play a role.

Oral cancer risk increases with age, occurring most often in people over the age of 40. Men are about twice as likely to contract it as women.

Lastly, human papilloma virus (specifically the HPV 16 type) is linked to oral cancers.

Oral Cancer Symptoms

The Oral Cancer Foundation recommends that anyone experiencing certain symptoms for more than two weeks should be evaluated by a dentist or a doctor. Symptoms include unusual surface changes in the mouth, lip, or throat. These might be a sore, lump, irritation, thick patch, or discolored (red or white) patches in the mouth. Other symptoms may be expressed in the jaw, including swelling or difficulty moving it. The tongue may be impacted with numbing, swelling or reduced mobility. Other red flags include a feeling that something is caught in your throat; pain in one ear; sudden tooth mobility; unusual bleeding; and airway obstruction.

Evaluation of Oral Cancer

When oral cancer is suspected, Dr. Elizabeth or Dr. Jeff will do a thorough visual exam and palpate the head, neck, oral, and throat regions. They will also review your medical, social, and familial history and inquire about lifestyle risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol usage.

If it seems necessary to refer you for a biopsy, it is possible to sometimes use diagnostic techniques that include the application of toluidine blue, which will bind to dysplastic or malignant cells. This simple, inexpensive and noninvasive substance can help determine appropriate biopsy sites and delineate margins for surgery.

Biopsies, generally performed under local anesthesia, will be submitted to a pathology lab and the tissue will be read under a microscope. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used to evaluate soft tissues and computed tomography (CT) may be used to detect lymph node metastasis and early bone invasion.

At Eggert Family Dentistry, we care about early detection for oral cancer, that is why you will find us looking at every recare exam for any signs or symptoms. We look forward to seeing you at your next recare visit. Call us today at 651.482.8412.

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