Know the Signs of Oral Cancer
Updated: Feb 11
It is estimated that every hour a person dies of oral and oropharyngeal cancers (2). EVERY hour. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, roughly 53,500 people will be newly diagnosed with a form of oral cancer this year in the US alone (2). Worldwide that number increases to 657,000 new cases every year (2). Individuals diagnosed with oral cancer account for 3 percent of all cancer diagnoses (1). The current death rate associated with oral cancer is 43 percent at five years of diagnosis (2). The high death rate associated with oral cancers is a result of the timing of diagnosis, as both oral and oropharyngeal cancers are treatable. The signs of oral cancer are not extremely apparent and can easily be mistaken with symptoms of an infection or allergies. Consequently, many individuals receive their cancer diagnoses once it has already progressed into the later stages, making it more difficult to treat. Those that do survive, usually face a decreased quality of life due to complications from treatment. On the other hand, if oral cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, the survival rate is estimated to be between 80 to 90 percent (2). That difference is monumental. This is the reason why early detection is so unbelievably important. However, to detect oral cancer early, you need to understand what to look out for. So, what are the signs? According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, here are a few signs to look out for.
Difficulty Chewing and/or Swallowing: Have you been having trouble chewing food or difficulty swallowing? Is it painful? Has your throat been sore for a while? These could be early indicators of oral cancer. If you begin to notice these symptoms and they persist longer than a few weeks, consider calling your doctor for a check-up.
Look Out for White Patches: One of the well-known early symptoms for oral cancer is white patches, or in some cases red patches, present in the mouth. Make it a habit to check your gums, tonsils, tongue, and the lining of your mouth regularly. Notice something out of the ordinary, keep your eye on it. If you notice a white or red patch present in your mouth for longer than a few weeks, it’s time to get it checked out.
Lumps: Have you noticed a lump or growth inside your mouth? Is it painful or tender to the touch? Feeling a lump is a major indicator of oral cancer and its emergence in your body. If you feel a lump or notice a growth in your mouth, lips, or throat, consider making an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Sores: Developing sores on your lips or inside your mouth can also be a major indicator of oral cancer. Particularly, if that sore is not showing any signs of healing. If you notice a sore develop on your lips, or inside your mouth, keep a close eye on it. If it persists, make an appointment to get it checked out.
Ear Pain: Has your ear been bothering you? Is it painful? Has it been bothering you for a while? Then it’s time to pick up that phone and get your doctor on the line.
Loose Teeth: Unless you are between the age of 6 and 12, having loose teeth is not normal. As adults, our teeth should not show any signs of movement. If you begin to notice that your teeth feel loose, it’s time to see your doctor (3).
It is important to keep in mind that many of the symptoms listed above are not definitive signs of oral cancer, these could also be symptoms of an infection or allergies (1). Regardless, it is important to pay attention to the changes that occur within your mouth, on your lips, and in your throat. Start making it a habit to check your mouth, lips, and throat regularly. Look out for changes that are out of the ordinary. If you begin to notice these symptoms emerge and they persist for longer than a few weeks, then you should consider calling your doctor’s office and making an appointment to get them checked out. Don’t ignore the signs.
1. Kandola, A. (2018, July 24). Warning signs of oral cancer: Symptoms and risk factors. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322575.php.
2. Oral Cancer Foundation. (2020, January 14). Retrieved from https://oralcancerfoundation.org/.
3. What are the Symptoms and Signs of Oral Cancer? (2019, September 26). Retrieved from https://www.cancercenter.com/cancer-types/oral-cancer/symptoms.