That Mouth Sore May Be More Than You Think

A non-healing sore is the most common symptom of oral cancer

It is not unusual for your mouth to have a sore or two in it. There are many kinds of sores that you can have in your mouth, but some of them may hide a potentially deadly secret – possibly being oral cancer. 


Mouth Sores

Oral cancer often starts out as a sore in your mouth. Some mouth sores may not be cancerous at first, but they may become cancerous. When it becomes cancer, the cells start multiplying rapidly and are no longer functioning like normal cells. They also will not look like normal cells.


Sores that linger longer than most need to be watched. They may become oral cancer. 


Early Detection Is Very Important

Any cancer that occurs in the head, mouth or neck, will usually spread very fast due to the many blood vessels in the area. Most of the time, oral cancer does not have any pain associated with it in the early stages, which makes it harder to detect. 


This is why oral cancers are often not detected until they are already in the advanced stages. More than 53,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. More than 10,000 people will die from it, and just over half (57%) of that number will be alive after five years. 


Causes of Oral Cancer

Several things are more likely to lead to the development of oral cancer. They include: 


  • Tobacco use – There is no doubt that using tobacco in any form is the most common cause. 


  • Alcohol – Heavy drinking of alcohol also leads to a greater likelihood of developing oral cancer. When alcohol is combined with smoking, oral cancer risks will more than double.


  • Excessive sun exposure – Being out in the sun too often can lead to lip cancer.


  • Oral HPV – This STD generally comes from oral sex.


  • Weak immune system – People with a weak immune system are more susceptible to oral cancer.


Oral Cancer Symptoms

Because there are several types of mouth cancer, oral cancer symptoms will vary. Most likely, you will see one or more of the following:


  • A red or white patch in the mouth

  • An ulcer or sore that does not heal but may bleed

  • A lump or sore area in your mouth, lips, or throat

  • Difficulty when chewing or swallowing

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • A sore throat or hoarseness.


When any one of the above symptoms occurs for more than two weeks, you should see a dentist right away. It may not be a mouth cancer, but you want to be sure. The dentist is trained to be able to recognize oral cancer and can take initial biopsies for analysis.


Oral Sex and Oral Cancer

A rapidly growing cause of more oral cancer cases in the United States is HPV. This sexually-transmitted disease is clearly behind about 70 percent of all oral cancer cases. The particular culprit is HPV-16, the same one that causes 90 percent of the cervical cancer cases in women. The HPV virus can lie dormant for more than 30 years before causing an outbreak. Most people's immune systems will eliminate the disease within two years – but some will not. 


About twice as many men will get oral cancer as women, but the ratio is continually getting closer. A diagnosis of mouth cancer usually occurs after 40 years of age.


Preventing Mouth Cancer

Although you cannot completely stop mouth cancer from developing, you can take several steps to greatly reduce your risk of it. These steps are primarily lifestyle changes, and they include:


  • Quit the use of any form of tobacco

  • Only consume alcohol moderately

  • Put a sunblock or lip balm on your lips when in the sun

  • Keep up with good oral hygiene – brush twice a day and floss

  • Eat healthy – eat more vegetables

  • Develop a regular exercise program

  • Have sex with only one person who is only having sex with you. 

  • Treat GERD. 


Finding Oral Cancer

Most often, it is the dentist that will detect what may be oral cancer. It is often noticed by a lump in the neck or throat, or it may start out as a patch of red or white in the mouth. Besides being able to get cleaner and longer-lasting teeth, this makes it even more important to see a dentist regularly. 


If you have a family history of oral cancer or have been a smoker or heavy drinker for years, you will want to visit the dentist regularly. With a much higher risk level, it is important to watch more closely for it.


If you are at risk of developing oral cancer, or if you believe you have a sore that might be early signs of mouth cancer, you can get an oral cancer screening and teeth cleaning from Dr. Kumar T. Vadivel, DDS, FDS RCS, MS, a Board Certified Periodontist. The screening normally just takes about a minute. Dr. Vadivel provides dental care of all kinds for the entire family at his offices in the Carrollton, TX, and Grapevine, TX areas. Nearly all dental health plans are accepted. For a consultation or dental checkup, you can contact his office today at (817) 756-8578.


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