Oral Cancer – Are You Concerned?

Be aware but no anxious – the word ‘cancer’ might strike fear into your heart, but it’s something that should be taken seriously

It’s something you should be mindful about but not obsessed over. According to Cancer Research UK, there were 367,167 cases of cancer in 2015-2017 alone. This is the sum figure of every type of cancer. Various types occur in many areas of our bodies. This makes the disease very dangerous, especially because it’s also estimated that only 38% of the cases in 2015 were preventable. These statistics should shock you – as they are supposed to – but it is important to be cautious and aware rather than becoming unnecessarily anxious.

It’s very easy to become concerned about your health and, in turn, become too anxious about it. Rather than this, it is far more important to stay vigilant, be cautious and educated on the signs, and always seek medical advice if you are concerned. For the time being, we will be looking strictly at the forms of oral cancer. If you are also concerned about other forms of cancer, though, make sure to use the resources available on Cancer Research UK. Therefore, we’ll take a look at what mouth cancer is, what we think increases your risk, the signs to watch out for, and much more.

What is oral cancer?

To summaries what is meant by the broad term ‘oral cancer’, the condition is when cancer forms anywhere in or around the mouth. This includes anywhere on the tongue, inside of the cheeks, around the gums, and even the lips. According to the NHS, while areas like the glands, tonsils, and part of the throat can also develop cancerous tumours, these areas are far less common than those associated with the mouth itself.  

Mouth cancer isn’t just a ‘one size fits all’ kind of situation and, because of this, experts categorise mouth cancer according to various factors (NHS) to compensate for differences on a case-to-case basis. It will then be categorised according to which type of cells the cancer originally developed in. In most cases, it seems mouth cancer originates from squamous cells, which are generally found in the skin all over our bodies and inside of our mouths.

Other types of cancers, like cancer of the salivary glands (adenocarcinoma), are less common but still possible. Sarcoma cancer is another rarer kind of cancer usually found in the bone, muscles, and cartilage. Oral malignant melanoma and lymphoma are other types of rarer cancers.

What causes it?

The disease is caused by, what is described as, uncontrolled cell growth in the body. These excessive cells will begin to amass into cancerous tissue, commonly referred to as a ‘tumour’. As such, these tumours can occur all over the body. We currently lack an exact scientific explanation for what triggers DNA to mutate like this, but we have been able to pinpoint things which increase our risk of mouth cancer. Everyone should be aware of these factors if they want to lower their risk.

Both alcohol and cigarettes are carcinogenic. This means they damage cells in our body and increase our risk of developing cancer. Doing both of these things increases your chances of developing cancer quite a lot, as they are the leading causes of cancer in the UK today. Minimising risk as much as possible should be at the forefront of people’s minds, and by stopping damaging habits could lead to a much longer, healthier life. Other things like using different types of tobacco products, eating unhealthily, and being infected with HPV, can all increase your risk.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Okay. You’ve got some more information on mouth cancer, but now what? Being aware of the signs and symptoms is incredibly important, as it could be the reason for the cancer being caught earlier and treated. Make sure to watch out for malignant ulcers that do not go away. In most cases, ulcers are no cause for concern and will go away on their own. You should seek advice only when the ulcer is there for longer than 2-3 weeks.

Similarly, if unexplained lumps begin appearing anywhere in or around the mouth area or the lymph glands, seek medical advice if they do not subside with 3 weeks. Different types of symptoms like sudden pain when swallowing, suddenly losing a lot of weight, excessive bleeding or numbness in the mouth, and difficulty moving your jaw can all be signs of mouth cancer.

While it might be our sudden reaction to panic when faced with even a few of these symptoms, it probably isn’t the best thing to do before speaking with a professional.  Many of the symptoms listed can also be signs of other, more minor issues that can be managed far easier than cancer. The main concern is if any of these issues are particularly persistent. In these cases, try to stay as calm as possible and consult with either your GP or your dentist as soon as possible for more information.

How is mouth cancer diagnosed?

A diagnosis will almost certainly start with an oral examination either by your GP or dentist. This will allow a professional to take a first-hand look at the issues that you a presenting with. They will also ask about what symptoms you have been experiencing so that they can get a clearer picture and decide if there is cause for concern or not.    

If your dentist or GP believes there is a chance it could be cancer, they will send a biopsy off to be tested. This is done by gathering a small sample of the area in question to determine if it is cancerous. Different methods of biopsy are used, and which is used will depend on your issues and where the cancer is believed to be.

If a biopsy returns positive for cancer, further testing will be required to develop a treatment plan for the case. Possible ways of testing can be x-rays, ultrasound scans, MRI-scan, CT-scans, and PET-scans.

Unsure about your dental health? Call your nearest Synergy Dental Clinic and we’ll be happy to help.