Oral Cancer-When it’s More Than Just a Sore

Sores in the mouth, pain with chewing, bleeding gums, and sore throats can seem commonplace.  Between ulcers, fever blisters, oral infections, general illnesses, and the all-too-common periodontal disease, it can be difficult to determine when a sore or a symptom is more than just your run of the mill oral health issue.  But, with oral cancer killing one person every day of the year,1 it is imperative to treat oral abnormalities with an increased index of suspicion

So, How Common is Oral Cancer, and Are You at Risk?

 According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, there are an estimated 49,750 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed each year.1 Of those nearly 50,000 individuals, 9,750 lose their lives annually, and only 57 percent of those diagnosed will survive more than 5 years.1 Men are also nearly twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women.1

Risks of oral cancer range to a variety of factors, but alcohol and tobacco remain the greatest risk with those using them in combination increasing their risk 15x over non-users.1. Other factors include human papilloma virus diagnosis, those over 40 years of age (though this is becoming less of a factor as diagnosis has been increasing in those under 40), and extended time in the sun or tanning beds.1 However, despite these identifying factors, it is not enough to avoid as many of them as possible, as about 25% of oral cancer patients report no risk factors at all!1

What Do I Need to Look For? 

Unfortunately, oral cancer may have no symptoms at all which increases the dangers of the disease.1However, any of the following can be a sign of oral cancer and should be reported to your oral surgeon or dentist as soon as possible:1

  • A prolonged sore on the lip or in the mouth
  • If you notice a lump on your lip or somewhere inside your mouth
  • Red or white patches that develop on your gums, tongue or back of your throat and tonsils
  • Bleeding pain or numbness in or around the mouth
  • Any sudden or chronic changes to your voice
  • Change in the way your dentures fit or suddenly lose teeth
  • Pain or difficulty with speaking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Swelling present in the area of the mouth or jaw
  • Feeling like something is always caught in your throat or if your throat is often or always sore.

How do I Avoid Becoming a Statistic?

 Obviously, the best way to prevent oral cancer is to avoid the identified risk factors associated with the disease, as this will decrease your chance of development by 75%!  However, concerns may still exist due to oral cancer occurring so frequently in those with no risk factors, and often with no symptoms until it is too late. 

As with any type of cancer, early detection is key.1  While many individuals are seeing their dentist only once or twice per year, it may be tough to monitor the condition of your oral health until a problem as long since developed.  Regular self-exams, such as the one found in the below from AAOMS, can greatly increase the chances of identifying problems early so you might identify them to your Oral Surgeon or other Dental professional for diagnosis and treatment. For more information on self exams, click here.oral cancer awareness text with red and white ribbon for oral cancer

In addition, make sure your medical and social history are accurate when reporting them to your dentist or oral surgeon.  If you are someone with one or more risk factors for oral cancer, it is important to make a point to schedule a screening with your local oral surgeon annually.1

Don’t become a statistic!  Avoid risk factors of oral cancer, perform regular self-examinations as described by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, and see your dental professional regularly.  It could save your life!  Your mouth, and your family, will thank you!

If you or someone you love has been experiencing any of the symptoms of oral cancer in this article, call our office at 219-864-1133 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Platt.

  1. org. https://www.aaoms.org/docs/media/oral_cancer/2017_oral_cancer_fact_sheet.pdf. Published 2022. Accessed April 22, 2022.

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