What you need to know about Oral Cancer

What is cancer? Cancer is the uncontrollable growth of cells that invade and cause damage to surrounding tissue. 

Oral cancer normally appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that persists and which includes the throat, sinuses, palate, lips, tongue, cheeks and the floor of the mouth. Oral cancer can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.

Risk factors for the development of oral cancer include:

Smoking:  Smokers (pipe, cigars, cigarettes, tobacco) are six times more likely than non-smokers to develop oral cancers.

“Smokeless tobacco” users: Users of dip, snuff, or chewing tobacco products are 50 times more likely to develop cancers of the cheek, gums, and lining of the lips.

Excessive consumption of alcohol: Oral cancers are about six times more common in drinkers than in non-drinkers.

Family history of cancer.

Excessive sun exposure: Especially at a young age.

Human papillomavirus (HPV): Certain HPV strains are etiologic risk factors for Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC)

It is important to note that over 25% of all oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and who only drink alcohol occasionally.

What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

The most common symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within two weeks
  • Swellings, lumps or bumps, rough spots or eroded areas on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth
  • The development of velvety white, red, or speckled patches in the mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
  • Unexplained numbness, loss of feeling, or pain in any area of the face, mouth, or neck
  • Soreness or feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or change in voice
  • Dramatic weight loss

If you notice any of these changes, contact your dentist or health care professional.


How Is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?

As part of your routine dental exam, your dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening exam. More specifically, your dentist will feel for any lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, face, and oral cavity. When examining your mouth, your dentist will look for any sores or discoloured tissue as well as check for any signs and symptoms mentioned above.

A biopsy may be needed to determine the makeup of a suspicious looking area. There are different types of scalpel biopsies, incisional and excisional, depending on whether only a piece or the whole area is needed to determine what the nature of the problem is, however, some doctors can perform these biopsies with lasers.

How Is Oral Cancer Treated?

Oral cancer is treated in the same way many other cancers are treated, usually with surgery to remove the cancerous growth, followed by radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

At Corne Smith Dentistry, ample appointment time is fully dedicated to you, to ensure a thorough check-up is done, not just for your teeth, but for your whole mouth and any signs of oral cancer. Visit Dr Corne Smith and her team in Cape Town, Claremont Dental practice for all your dental needs.