Early Detection Equals Higher Survival Rates: How to Spot Oral Cancer Before It’s Too Late

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, at least 50 thousand Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2016. Oral cancer includes all forms of cancer that occur in the mouth, at the back of the mouth and on the lips. Despite those grim numbers, more than half of those diagnosed will survive beyond five years. Although dentists are always on the lookout for signs of oral cancer in their patients, it’s just as important for people to recognize the signs themselves, so they can catch the condition early. Here’s what you need to know about oral cancer.


Common symptoms of oral cancer include the following:

– Ulcers

Some patients may have areas of broken skin in the mouth that do not heal. These ulcers are not always painful.

– Pain

Persistent pain in the mouth is experienced by a large number of oral cancer sufferers.

– Lesions

Patients may notice red or white lesions in the throat or elsewhere in the mouth. Although these patches can also be caused by fungal infections like thrush, they can also be signs of precancerous changes that could lead to cancer if left untreated.

– Difficulty Swallowing

Some cases of oral cancer involve pain or burning sensations when swallowing food. Patients may describe the sensation that food is sticking to their throats. While this can also be the result of other conditions, it’s best to let a doctor know right away.

– Difficulty Speaking

Oral cancer can also affect a person’s voice, causing it to sound different. This may manifest itself as a quieter or huskier voice, as though the person has a cold. Some individuals may slur or have difficulty with pronunciation.

– Lumps

Lumps in the neck may be caused by enlarged lymph nodes. Having more than one swollen lymph node in the neck is often associated with oral cancer. If the lump is red and painful, it could be a type of infection, rather than cancer. Lumps that disappear and reappear are unlikely to be cancerous, as cancer typically forms lumps that grow over time.

– Weight Loss

Many types of cancer are associated with unexplained weight loss. With regard to oral cancer, it’s often due to mouth pain or difficulty swallowing. If the weight loss is extreme, it may indicate advanced cancer.

– Bad Breath

There are many reasons a person can have bad breath, but bad breath due to cancer is often worse and more persistent than common halitosis.

– Other Symptoms

Less-common symptoms of oral cancer may include lumps in the mouth, throat or lips, unusual numbness or bleeding, loose teeth and difficulty moving the jaws.

While most of the symptoms listed above can also be caused by other conditions, the only way to know for sure is to visit your doctor or dentist.


While the exact cause is unknown, certain lifestyle factors are known to increase one’s risk for developing oral cancer. One of the biggest risk factors is tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco. Statistics show that 90 percent of people with oral cancer are tobacco users. Similarly, alcohol use is known to increase this risk. Combined use of alcohol and tobacco increases this risk.

Aside from alcohol and tobacco, age is a known risk factor, especially in those with poor eating habits. Most individuals who develop oral cancer are over 40 and the odds are greater in those whose diets lack an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Additional risk factors include sun exposure on the lips and exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV).


In many cases, oral cancer is first detected painlessly by dentists such as Greely dentist Dr. Scott Williams, while performing routine examinations. These checkups involve not only examinations of the teeth and gums, but also the lips and face, for any indications of spreading. In the course of the checkup, the dentist may also palpate the jaw and neck areas, as well as examining both sides of the tongue. These screenings are best conducted every six months.


Treatment of oral cancer can involve various approaches, depending on the severity and the stage at which it is diagnosed. It may involve dental practitioners, surgeons, nutritionists, chemotherapy oncologists, radiation oncologists and rehabilitation specialists. Surgery and radiation are used in most cases, with the added use of chemotherapy to reduce the risk of metastasis.


The best way to prevent oral cancer is to take care of your mouth. Daily oral hygiene prevents tooth decay and gum disease that can lead to more serious problems. Daily brushing with a fluoride toothpaste are critical, as well as flossing and avoiding sweets. Lifestyle choices also play an important role in reducing the use of alcohol and tobacco, as well as avoiding excessive sun exposure.

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, be sure to see your dentist or doctor right away. If they detect a problem, they can refer you to the right specialists. The earlier oral cancer is detected, the better your chances are for successful treatment.  
Elizabeth Bolton is studying to be a nurse. She enjoys sharing her research online through blogging. Early detection gives people more treatment options and Elizabeth is keen to keep spreading this message.