About 3–5% of all cancer diagnoses of Americans are related to head and neck cancer. Oral cancer, the most widespread of all head and neck cancers, involves the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells that damage surrounding tissue in the cheeks, lips, tongue, floor of the mouth, sinuses, and throat.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, approximately 49,700 Americans are diagnosed yearly with this type of cancer. Early diagnosis of this condition is beneficial to improving a patient’s quality of life and survival rate.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
Below are factors that increase a person’s chances of having oral cancer. These will also be relevant to your doctor’s diagnosis.
- Smoking, including the use of smokeless tobacco products
- Excessive alcohol use
- Excessive sun exposure to your lips
- Sexual transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV)
Additionally, being older than 40 also places you at greater risk of having oral cancer. This condition affects twice as many men as women.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
The following signs and symptoms may be indicative of oral cancer. However, these are also symptoms of less severe conditions. If you have any of these symptoms, the best course of action is to consult your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.
- Swelling, or the presence of lumps or rough areas inside your mouth
- The growth of velvety white, red, or speckled patches inside your mouth
- Bleeding in your mouth
- Numbness, pain, or tenderness on your face, mouth, ear, or neck
- Persistent soreness with bleeding on your face, mouth, or neck for two weeks or longer
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
- Difficulty in moving your jaw or tongue
- Hoarseness in your voice
- Persistent sore throat or the sensation of something stuck in the back of your throat
Diagnosing Oral Cancer
Oral Cancer Screening
ENT specialists or dentists use oral cancer screenings to check the cheek lining, floor, and roof of the mouth, gums, lips, tongue, and tonsils for abnormalities. This exam aims to detect cancer before more signs and symptoms develop.
Usually, your provider examines your mouth during a routine check-up for oral cancer. They inspect the inside of your mouth for signs. However, a single screening won’t catch all mouth cancers. After an oral cancer screening, your doctor may require you to undergo additional testing.
Some special tools to help with oral cancer screenings include:
- Oral cancer screening dye. Your doctor will ask you to rinse your mouth using special blue ink. Abnormal cells will become stained and appear blue.
- Oral cancer screening light. Your doctor will shine a light inside your mouth. Abnormal tissue will appear
If your doctor detects an abnormality, they may require you to schedule a follow-up visit to inspect developments on any problems they might find. They may also recommend a biopsy, which involves cutting out a tissue sample. A biopsy may also be performed with a needle. The cells are analyzed in a lab for precancerous changes or cancer.
Tests to Diagnose Oral Cancer Stages
Once your doctor confirms the presence of oral cancer, they can determine the severity and stage of your condition with various tests.
- Endoscopy – This involves using a small camera equipped with a light to inspect your throat.
- Imaging Tests – This includes X-Ray, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
Diagnosing your cancer’s stage will aid your doctor in determining appropriate treatments.
ENT Specialist in Georgetown, Texas
If you’re worried about having oral cancer, our experienced providers at Georgetown ENT can help. Our experts can provide an oral cancer screening and ensure you get the right treatment, if necessary.
If you have any questions, please call us at (512) 869-0604. To set an appointment, you can call us or use our secure online appointment form.