What is Mouth Cancer?
Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer or cancer of the oral cavity, is often used to describe several cancers that start in the region of the mouth. These most commonly occur on the lips, tongue and floor of the mouth but can also start in the cheeks, gums, roof of the mouth, tonsils and salivary glands.
Mouth cancer symptoms
Symptoms of mouth cancer can include:
- A lump in your neck
- Loose teeth
- Swelling or a sore on your lip that won’t heel
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Changes in speech
- Bleeding or numbness in the mouth
- White or red patches on the mouth, tongue or gums
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Ear pain, In particular from one side
Mouth cancer risk factors
The main risk factors for most mouth cancers are tobacco and alcohol consumption. Other risk factors can include:
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Family history of mouth cancers
- Poor oral hygiene and gum disease
- Excessive, unprotected exposure to the sun
Early diagnosis of mouth cancer
Yearly oral screening is important for early detection of mouth cancer. Using the latest technology, your dentist can detect disease not visible with the naked eye. The VELscope VX uses a blue light to stimulate natural fluorescence in the soft tissues, allowing the dentist to see any disease present. Your dentist will examine your mouth, throat, tongue, cheeks, ears and eyes. You may also be referred to see a specialist for addition tests.
Treatment for Mouth Cancer
- Staging – Tests such as CT and MRI scans help to determine how far the cancer has spread. Staging helps your doctor decide on the best treatment options for you.
- Surgery – A common treatment for mouth cancers is surgery to remove the tumour, particularly in early-stages of cancer. The extent of surgery may depend on the size of the tumour and how far the cancer has spread. Surrounding tissue and lymph nodes may also be removed.
- Radiotherapy – Radiotherapy can be used on its own to treat some small mouth cancers. Radiotherapy can also be used in combination with chemotherapy for more advanced cancers. Your doctor may also recommend radiotherapy after surgery.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill or shrink tumours. It can be used on its own or with radiotherapy. You may have chemotherapy to shrink a tumour before surgery or if cancer has come back after other treatments.
- Palliative care – Palliative care aims to improve your quality of life without trying to cure the cancer. It may be recommended by your doctor to alleviate the symptoms of cancer or the side-effects of treatment.
Prognosis of mouth cancer
While it is not possible to predict the exact course of a disease, your doctor may give you a prognosis, the likely outcome of your disease based on the type of cancer, your test results and the rate of tumour growth. Other factors include your age, medical history and overall health.
Preventing mouth cancer
Around 59% of mouth cancers in Australia are caused by smoking. Around 31% are caused by excess alcohol consumption. So quitting smoking and moderating alcohol consumption will significantly reduce your risk of developing mouth cancer, especially those inside the mouth. Cancers of the lip are commonly associated with UV exposure, so it is also important to protect yourself from the sun when the UV is high.
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