Oral Cancer: Signs, Diagnosis & Treatment
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 28,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed annually, with more than 7,000 of these cases resulting in death. Oral cancer may occur on the mouth, lips, tongue, gums, salivary glands, and throat (oropharyngeal).
What are the Signs?
Since oral cancer often begins with an asymptomatic stage during which symptoms may not be obvious, it is often painless initially and therefore difficult to detect.
Although the following signs do not necessarily signify cancer, are not all-inclusive, and may signify other dental conditions, they may be associated with early signs of cancer. Any abnormal change in the mouth, gums, tongue, or surrounding area should be evaluated by a dental professional immediately.
The signs of oral cancer may include:
- Continuous pain in the mouth
- Sores and bumps inside the mouth, including ragged, ulcerous lesions
- Difficulty moving the mouth and jaw
- Difficulty swallowing and chewing
- Soreness in the throat
- Bump in the neck
- Pronounced pain in one ear
- Undiagnosed bleeding from the tongue, gums or cheeks
- Numbness in a specific area of the mouth or jaw
Check-up, Diagnosis and Treatment
For a definitive oral cancer diagnosis, you must see a dentist and a doctor (your dentist may refer you to an oncologist if cancer is expected). Your doctor and dentist will examine your mouth and evaluate your medical history to formulate an initial diagnostic impression and treatment plan. If the resulting treatment plan does not effectively resolve the dental condition within two weeks, a biopsy of the affected area will be performed to test for cancer.
It is diagnosed through a confirmed malignant biopsy and a clinical evaluation to identify the stage and grade of the cancer. Cancer is present when the basement membrane of the epithelium is broken. It may eventually spread to other areas of the mouth and body, resulting in secondary cancers that may yield even more serious consequences.
In order to determine the "path" of the cancer, the doctor may perform additional tests, including an X-ray, CT scan (computerized tomography) or MRI Scan (magnetic resonance imaging).
Ultrasounds may be used to establish the contour, consistency and composition of the cancerous mass or masses. In the end, your doctor and dentist will develop an oral cancer treatment plan based on supporting diagnostic tests.
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