Oral Cancer: What Are the Signs & How Can I Prevent It?

Senior Woman Gets Teeth Checked at DentistOral cancer (also referred to as mouth cancer) is a form of cancer most commonly found in adults over age 62.

If you use tobacco products like cigarettes or snuff, or if you drink alcohol regularly, you’re at an increased risk for oral cancer. However, people who never smoke or drink may still be at risk.

What Are the Signs?

Most oral cancers are not found when they are small because they aren’t easily visible and don’t cause any pain. A dentist or dental hygienist can help identify these cancers, even before you can see or feel them.

Here are some warning signs that might indicate oral cancer.

  • One or more sores that don’t heal after two weeks, or that seems to heal then open up again in the same place (especially on the lower lip).
  • Red, white, or red and white patches on the gums, cheeks, tongue or anywhere in the mouth that does not go away within two weeks.
  • Lumps, bumps, or swelling in the mouth that seem to appear for no reason and don’t go away within two weeks.
  • Numbness or pain you can’t explain.
  • Problems with chewing, eating or swallowing.
  • Problems with dentures no longer fitting properly.
  • Sore throat or hoarse voice that never seems to go away.

Lowering Your Risk

It’s never too late to reduce your risk for oral cancer and to improve your health. Here are a few steps you can take right now.

  • Don’t use tobacco. If you smoke or use tobacco products, stop now. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor or dentist. You can also visit smokefree.gov for information on quitting tobacco use.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. For information about “low-risk” drinking patterns , visit the “Rethinking Drinking” website from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • Protect yourself from the sun. While outside, wear a wide-brimmed hat and use a lip balm that contains sunscreen.
  • Watch for signs of a problem. Pay attention to your mouth and call your dentist if something seems wrong.

Finally, be sure to visit your dentist regularly – at least twice a year – for an oral cancer screening examination, even if you no longer have teeth. This examination includes all areas of the mouth and some parts of the head and neck.

About the Author

Leslie DeLong, RDH, MHH
Associate Professor Lamar Institute of Technology, Co-Author of General and Oral Pathology for the Dental Hygienist-LWW

The information on this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Tooth Wisdom® and Oral Health America do not recommend or endorse any specific dentists, products, procedures, opinions, or other information mentioned. See full Terms & Conditions.

Leave a Comment