Oral Cancer

About 53,000 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed each year, making the disease one of concern for the team at Comprehensive Cancer Centers, as it often goes ignored and untreated by those with the disease.

Oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat. They develop on the tongue, tissue lining the mouth and gums, under the tongue, at the base of the tongue, the throat at the back of the mouth. The cancer most often occurs in people over the age of 40 and affects more than twice as many men as women. Most oral cancers are related to tobacco and/or alcohol use and human papilloma virus (HPV).

Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarette smoking, puts people at increased risk for developing oral cancers. Heavy alcohol use may increase the risk. When alcohol is paired with tobacco use, risk factors for oral cancer becomes even greater.

Alcohol and tobacco use often irritate the gums, tongue, mouth and teeth and these irritations can make early signs of cancer appear similar to residual effects of simply smoking and drinking.

Comprehensive Cancer Centers urges everyone, and in particular those who smoke and drink and are a greater risk for oral cancer, to be mindful of potential signs and symptoms, and to not dismiss them as something else. If any of these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your healthcare provider or dentist to fully assess the situation:

  • Soreness, irritation, lumps or thick patches in the mouth, lip, or throat
  • White or red patches in the mouth
  • Sore throat or the feeling of something is caught in your throat
  • Challenges in chewing, swallowing, or speaking, moving the jaw or tongue
  • Swelling of the jaw that causes irritation to teeth or dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  • Numbness in the tongue or other areas of your mouth
  • Pain in the ear or ears

Oral cancer and its treatment can cause dental problems, outside of ones you may already have. It’s also important that your mouth is in good health before any cancer treatment begins and having your dentist understand you’re being treated, and being part of your care team, is critically important.

Because oral cancer can spread quickly, early detection is important. An oral cancer examination can detect early signs of cancer. The exam is painless and takes only a few minutes. Many dentists will perform the test during regular dental check-up where they will check the face, neck, lips, and entire mouth for possible signs of cancer.

If you don’t have signs or symptoms of oral cancer, but you’re a smoker or a drinker, make your dentist aware of these potential risks and have them customize your dental appointments to include looking for signs and symptoms you may not be able to see on your own. As much as we advocate quitting smoking  alcohol consumption in moderation, we understand that quitting is a process, and while in that process, don’t hesitate to take every precaution available to find cancer early.

Oral cancer, when detected early, is treated with surgery or radiation therapy. Oral cancer that is further along when it is diagnosed may use a combination of treatments. For example, the team at Comprehensive Cancer Centers may use radiation therapy and chemotherapy at the same time.

While there are many ways to treat cancer, Comprehensive urges precaution and prevention to reduce risks and improve treatment outcomes.

Oral cancer isn’t only caused by smoking or drinking, but also due to HPV (human papillomavirus) or  a result of old age, which makes paying attention to risks factors even more important. As with other cancers, be sure to eat well, exercise, get vaccines as directed by your physician, wear sunscreen and take time to identify potential problems as early as possible.

Comprehensive Cancer Centers Can Help

Physicians at Comprehensive Cancer Centers provide a variety of treatment options for oral cancers including chemotherapy, radiation therapy and world-class clinical research and immunotherapy.  To schedule an appointment with the team at Comprehensive, please call 702-952-3350.


The content in this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.