Cancer of the mouth, also called oral cancer, almost always starts in the surface cells, whether on the tongue, the lips or inside the mouth. These cancers in surface tissues are known as squamous cell carcinomas.
Oral cancer is not a particularly common cancer, but it does have a reputation for being deadly. Most of the time, the high death rate is attributable to the oral cancer having been detected and treated late in its development.
Causes and Symptoms
Many of the risk factors for mouth cancer are preventable, mainly by eliminating them from your lifestyle. For example, tobacco use is one of the biggest risks for mouth cancer, whether it’s from smoking or from chewing smokeless tobacco. Alcohol use, sun exposure on the lips, not eating enough fruits and vegetables or an HPV infection of the mouth and throat are other risk factors for oral cancer.
The first warning signs of oral cancer are the presence of bleeding, sores or patches inside the mouth. Red patches, white patches or a mixture of red and white patches all have the potential to become malignant tumors. Numbness in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, loose teeth and a lump on the neck are other possible symptoms of mouth cancer.
Treatment of Mouth Cancer
If oral cancer is detected early enough, minor surgery and radiation therapy are the normal treatments. As the cancer progresses, more progressive surgery, targeted therapy and a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be needed. Depending on how much mouth tissue needs to be removed, some form of facial reconstruction surgery and therapy with a speech-language pathologist may be needed to restore full function after treatment for oral cancer.
SOURCES: Oral Cancer Foundation; U.S. National Cancer Institute