Oral cancers difficult to diagnose

Many cancers are well known and quite common. Oral cancers, or those that occur in the mouth and on the lips, aren’t discussed as frequently but are just as important to know about.

About 50,000 new cases of head and neck cancers, in which oral cancers are grouped, are diagnosed each year in the U.S. Roger Ebert, the famous movie critic, lost his lower jaw from complications from oral cancer. He uses computer technology to communicate and must be fed intravenously because of an inability to eat in the standard manner. Denver Nuggets coach George Karl was recently diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma on his tonsil.

Mouth cancers can develop on the tongue, lips, cheeks, gums, or on the roof of the mouth. These types of cancers are treated similarly in most cases.

Because there can be many causes for mouth ailments, oral cancers initially may be difficult to diagnose. There are some symptoms that may be indicative of mouth cancer. These include:

• a sore that will not heal

• jaw pain or stiffness

• a feeling of something stuck in the throat

• white patches on the mouth

• difficult or painful chewing

• loose teeth or improperly fitting dentures

• a lump or thickening of the skin of the mouth

Visit the dentist or a doctor if any symptoms persist for more than two weeks. A professional will rule out other potential causes, such as toothache or infection first.

Most oral cancers begin in the thin, squamous cells that line the inside of the mouth and lips. These cells can mutate and eventually cause tumors.

While there is no definitive cause for oral cancers, there are certain factors that put a person at greater risk of getting a mouth cancer. First and foremost is any type of tobacco use. Smokers and those who chew tobacco are at a very high rate for mouth cancer.

Individuals who use alcohol in abundance are also at a higher risk. Other possible causes include previous radiation treatment for other head or neck cancers, unprotected exposure of the lips to UV rays, and contraction of the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Oral cancers can rob a person of the ability to speak, eat, drink, and could result in some sort of disfigurement. Early detection and treatment can help prevent these effects. That is why a doctor should be consulted promptly if there are persistent symptoms.

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