What is oral cancer? Oral and throat cancer, also referred to as pharyngeal cancer, may involve the lips, gums, tongue, teeth, cheeks, roof or floor of the mouth or back of the throat. It usually starts out as a small white spot that looks like an irritation, or an ulcer that may be red or white. The most common site is on the side of the tongue, and it oftentimes is not painful. The lesion may become infected and increase in size. There are 30,000 new cases of oral cancer each year, according to the National Centers for Disease Control. The Center estimates that 8,000 individuals die each year from oral cancer. Some tumors are benign, meaning noncancerous, and others are malignant or cancerous. If a malignant growth is not treated, cancer cells can spread to other areas of the body. With early diagnosis and advanced technology, oral cancer can be treated with success.
What are the symptoms? The symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), include: A sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal, a lump on the lip or in the throat or mouth, a white or red patch on the gums, tongue or mouth lining, unusual bleeding, numbness or pain in the mouth, a sore throat that won't disappear, or a feeling something is caught in the throat, difficulty or pain with swallowing or chewing, jaw swelling that causes dentures to fit poorly or be uncomfortable, voice changes, and ear pain.
How is it detected? Most dentists or hygienists check for oral cancer during the routine examination. If you have any symptoms, you should contact your dentist or physician immediately. Oral cancer is detected via a biopsy that includes removing all or part of the tissue growth. The sample is sent to a lab where the cells are examined.
How is it prevented? Good oral hygiene can help prevent oral cancer, as well as having your dentist or physician check your mouth regularly for skin lesions and abrasions.
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