Oral Cancer – The Ugly Truth

Posted on Mar 15, 2013 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

Oral cancer is cancer of the mouth and most commonly involves the lips or the tongue. It may also occur on the gums, roof of the mouth, under the tongue or lining of cheeks.

If the cancer is found early, before it can spread to other tissues, the survival rate is 90%. However, more than half of oral cancers have spread by the time the cancer is found, most spreading to the throat or neck.

Oral cancer tends to spread quickly. Treating oral cancer early, when tumors are small, may require surgical removal only. For larger tumors, surgery may be combined with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Surgery is not commonly done if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck.

About 1 in 4 with oral cancer die because of delayed diagnosis and treatment complications. Approximately half of patients with oral cancer will live more than 5 years after diagnosis and treatment. Treatment can leave the survivor with disfigurement of the face and/or neck, speech problems, and difficulty chewing and swallowing.

Some oral cancers begin as a white sore or spot. While smoking and other tobacco use are linked to most cases of oral cancer, heavy alcohol use also increases its risk. Men over the age of 40 have a higher risk than women. Other risk factors are the HPV virus, poor oral hygiene, chronic irritation, or medications that weaken the immune system.

Early symptoms of oral cancer include a sore, lump, or ulcer in the mouth. You may also experience pain with swallowing, speech difficulties, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and weight loss.

If you have a sore in your mouth or lip or a lump in the neck that does not go away within 2 weeks, you should be seen in our office immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment of oral cancer greatly increases the chances of survival. Call us at 828-274-9440 so we can catch problems at the earliest possible stage.

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