Lets Talk About Oral Cancer

Let’s Talk About Oral Cancer

More than 49,000 cases of oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, are diagnosed each year in the United States, occurring most often in people over 40 years old. Oral cancers are most often discovered after they’ve spread to the lymph nodes of the neck. Like with breast cancer, colon cancer, and testicular cancer, early detection is key to improving the chances of survival. 


Symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • lip or mouth sores that won’t heal
  • a mass or growth anywhere in your mouth
  • bleeding from your mouth
  • loose teeth
  • pain or difficulty swallowing
  • trouble wearing dentures
  • neck lumps
  • consistent earaches
  • dramatic weight loss
  • numbness in the lower lip, face, neck, or chin
  • white, red and white, or red patches in or on your mouth or lips
  • sore throat
  • jaw pain or stiffness
  • tongue pain

Some of these symptoms, such as a sore throat or an earache, may indicate other conditions. If you notice any of these symptoms, especially if they don’t go away or you have more than one at a time, visit your dentist or doctor as soon as possible.

How is oral cancer diagnosed?

To diagnose oral cancer, your doctor or dentist will perform a physical exam which includes closely examining the roof and floor of your mouth, the back of your throat, tongue, and cheeks, and the lymph nodes in your neck. If your doctor cannot determine why you’re having your symptoms, you may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.

If your doctor finds any tumors, growths, or suspicious lesions, they’ll perform one of two types of biopsy- a brush biopsy or a tissue biopsy. A brush biopsy is a painless test that collects cells from the tumor by brushing them onto a slide. A tissue biopsy involves removing a piece of the tissue so it can be examined under a microscope for cancerous cells.

In addition, your doctor may perform one or more of the following tests:

  • a CT scan to reveal any tumors in your mouth, throat, neck, lungs, or elsewhere in your body
  • a PET scan to determine if cancer has traveled to lymph nodes or other organs
  • a MRI scan to show a more accurate image of the head and neck, and determine the extent or stage of the cancer
  • X-rays to see if cancer cells have spread to the jaw, chest, or lungs


There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing head and neck cancers. Smoking and drinking alcohol in heavy amounts have the highest risk of developing oral cancer. Smoking and excessive drinking in combination can significantly increase your risk of oral cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, heavy drinkers who are also smokers are up to 100 times more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer than those who don’t drink or smoke. Sun exposure, not wearing sunscreen, or going to a tanning salon increases your chances of developing lip cancer. Wearing lip balm with SPF helps protect your lips from excessive sun exposure.

Oral cancers from UV rays have decreased in recent years which is likely related to more awareness and protection from the sun.


An oral cancer diagnosis does allow for several treatment options, which will vary depending on the type, location, and stage of cancer at diagnosis and will be determined by your doctors. Treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, all of which works to keep cancer contained and increase the survival rate of oral cancer.

Nutrition and maintaining oral health, i.e. healthy teeth and gums, are also important. Keeping up with routine dental care is also recommended. Make sure to consult with your doctor about the appropriate treatment for you.

If you’re diagnosed with oral cancer, talking regularly with your doctor is essential to making informed choices about your healthcare.  

To book a scan, visit us at Medmo.com. Medmo helps people schedule radiology imaging tests – such as MRI, CT scans, PET, and more – at nearby accredited centers and identify the payment solution that works best for them.


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