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Know the Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer

March 19, 2018

While it’s not among the most common of cancers, more than 51,000 people get oral or oropharyngeal cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society. That’s enough people to fill a major league baseball stadium.

Even though these cancers are twice as common in men as they are in women, everyone should be aware of the symptoms and signs. Early detection and treatment may result in a better outcome in the fight against this cancer.

Where You'll Find It

Oral cancer originates in the mouth, while oropharyngeal cancer starts in the oropharynx, which is the first part of your throat, at the back of your mouth. But Oral cancer doesn't just occur in the mouth. The term includes cancers in or around these areas:

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Pharynx (the part of the throat that’s behind the mouth and nasal cavity
  • Gums
  • Roof or floor of the mouth
  • Inside of the cheeks
  • Sinuses
  • Throat
What to Look For

Oral cancer, or cancer of the mouth, usually appears as a persistent growth that won't go away. According to the Mayo Clinic and the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, common oral cancer symptoms and signs include:

  • Persistent mouth pain. This includes pain in any area of the mouth that won’t go away.
  • Frequent mouth sores. These stubborn sores might often bleed and refuse to heal, even after several weeks.
  • Persistent tongue pain. In addition to the pain, you may notice strange red or white patches on the tongue.
  • Jaw pain or difficulty moving the jaw. Stiffness in your jaw when eating or chewing can be the sign of a tumor in that area.
  • A growth or lump in the skin that lines the mouth. If you notice a lump in your mouth that doesn’t go away in two weeks, you need to see a doctor or dentist.
  • Difficult or painful chewing or swallowing. This may feel like a burning feeling or a throbbing pain, which may make it difficult even to taste food, or speak.
  • A chronic sore throat, hoarseness, or the feeling that something is lodged in the back of your throat. Pain isn’t always associated with oral cancer; it may just be the persistent sensation that things are sticking in your throat when you swallow.
  • Dentures that fit poorly due to swelling in the mouth. Swelling in your mouth can also cause your teeth to loosen.
  • Voice changes. Hoarseness or a change in the voice can sometimes be the first sign of cancer in the voice box.

Like many other cancers, the earlier you receive treatment, the better your chances of recovery. Knowing the signs and symptoms will enable you to recognize the condition so that you can get treatment as soon as possible.