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Oral Cancer Questions and Answers (Q&A)

There are some people who may not realize that they have oral cancer immediately because the first signs and symptoms are so subtle. You may have to look at these signs so that you can detect the condition early: Check if you have sores all over your mouth that do not heal. You can also check your teeth if they are still in their top condition.

Experiencing tongue pain is not normal especially if you have not bitten your tongue yet. You should also look for some sort of growth that may be available in a portion of your mouth that seems to grow bigger as time passes by. If you have these symptoms, have yourself checked by the doctor immediately.

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The vast majority of oral cancers are diagnosed in people over 40 years of age and typically peak between ages 60 and 70. African-American and Hispanic men are twice as likely as Caucasian men to be found to have oral cancer. The incidence of oral cancer in men vs. women historically was around six to one but has fallen to about two to one.

The reason for the decline is suspected to be due to more women using tobacco and alcohol, two known risk factors for oral cancer. The incidence of oral cancer in non-smokers under age 50 is growing due to an increase in exposure to HPV viral infections.

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Oral cancer typically occurs in people who have one or more risk factors. The two most common risk factors include tobacco use which includes cigarette, cigar, or pipe smoking in addition to snuff or chewing tobacco and heavy alcohol consumption.

Family history of cancer and sun exposure (especially for lip cancer) are other less significant risk factors. Men are generally more likely to develop oral cancer than women. African-American and Hispanic men are more likely than Caucasian men to develop oral cancer. Non-smokers under age 50 who have been exposed to human papilloma virus (HPV) infections are also at risk.

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You should absolutely NOT opt for home-made treatment of oral cancer. In fact, any sore or discolored area in your mouth which does not heal within two weeks should be examined by a doctor. There is virtually no home-made remedy that will work to cure oral cancer. The longer you wait to get treatment, the more you risk dying from the cancer. The five-year survival rate for oral cancer is approximately 50 percent.

The reason for this is because most oral cancers do not typically cause pain. As a result, they are often not diagnosed until after the cancer has reached an advanced stage or spread to the lymph nodes of the neck, making treatment more complicated and difficult.

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Leukoplakia is a physical disorder that shows up as thick, white or gray patches with a hard, raised surface on or under your tongue, the inside of your cheeks, or on your gums. It is usually not painful nor is it usually a serious condition.

Leukoplakia often goes away on its own. However, your doctor or dentist might prescribe an anti-viral medication or a topical retinoic acid-containing ointment. Leukoplakia is typically caused by smoking, chewing tobacco, or an injury such as biting your cheek or gum or dentures that don’t fit properly. In rare cases in may be linked to oral cancer in which case it should be treated without delay.

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Early oral cancer detection methods can be as simple as you noticing a sore or discoloration in your mouth, lips or tongue that does not heal within two weeks. Your dentist might also notice something during a routine dental visit. Once you or your dentist suspects there is an issue, you should see an ear, nose and throat specialist.

The specialist will perform a complete physical exam and conduct a family history. A biopsy and blood tests will also be conducted. Diagnostic imaging such as computer tomography (CT) scanning may also be used to determine if the bones or lymph nodes have been affected. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used to see if any soft tissues are involved and to provide a three-dimensional image of any tumor.

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If you are suffering from oral cancer you should ask your doctor(s) any and all questions you have about your diagnosis and prognosis. You should also follow the advice of your doctors about what to do next. Your doctors will recommend a treatment plan that may involve radiation, surgery, chemotherapy, or some combination of all three. It is most important that you understand the treatment options your doctor(s) are considering for you.

Lastly, don’t lose hope. Take advantage of any support services and groups that the cancer center or hospital may have available for you. You need to stay strong in mind, body and spirit, and it’s helpful to have a support system available to you at all stages of your treatment.

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Oral cancers can involve the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, and hard palate. The hard palate is the bony part of the roof of a mouth that separates the mouth from the nasal cavity. Lip cancer is the most common cancer of the mouth, most likely due to UV radiation from sun exposure.

More than 90 percent of oral cancers start in squamous cells. Squamous cells are thin, flat, skin like cells covering most of the surfaces inside the mouth. When mutations occur in the DNA of these cells, the cells grow and multiply out of control.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) defines erythroplakia as “a condition of the mouth that most always contains abnormal cells, and is defined by as any lesion of the oral mucosa that presents a bright-red velvety plaque. This plaque cannot be classified either clinically or pathologically as any other recognizable infection.”

The Oral Cancer Foundation considers erythroplakia to be a premalignant condition affecting “one to five percent of adults 50 years or older”. In contrast, white lesions, also known as leukoplakia, are more commonly seen but less likely to be found to be premalignant.

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Oral cancer cannot be detected solely by a blood test. If you, your dentist, or your primary care doctor suspects you may have oral cancer, you will likely be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist. The specialist will perform a complete physical exam and conduct a family history.

A biopsy and blood tests will also be conducted. The blood tests will primarily be ordered just to help determine your overall health before treatment and to be sure there are no other underlying health issues. There are some blood tests that look for cancer markers but these cannot be used to confirm or diagnosis oral cancers.

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