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What is Oral Cancer?

Updated on August 21, 2014
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Every year, over 40,000 people will be diagnosed with this cancer, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation, which notes that 8,000 of those Americans will die. While not as well known as other cancers, the death rate for this disease is actually higher than cervical, testicular, and skin cancer. Learn the symptoms and risk factors for this deadly disease, since early detection is the best defense.

What Is It?

This disease is a cancer of the mouth. It normally occurs on the lips and tongue. However, it may develop on the roof or the floor of the mouth. In addition, it may also form on the gums or the inside of the cheeks.

Why Is the Death Rate So High?

Sadly, the death rate is high because it is not usually detected until it has reached an advanced stage. Usually the disease exhibits no obvious symptoms, such as lesions, discoloration, or pain, which hinders early detection. And, while the cancer remains hidden, it can continue to grow and even expand to other areas. Therefore, by the time it is diagnosed, the disease has reached a critical state.

What Are the Risk Factors?

There are many risk factors that increase your chances of developing this disease. These include smoking and the frequent consumption of large quantities of alcohol. Also, if you have the human papilloma virus or if you take immunosuppressant medications that weaken your immune system, you are at greater risk.

In addition, if you don't exercise good oral and dental hygiene and if you suffer from irritated dentures or fillings, your chances are increased.

This cancer is more prevalent in men than in women.

What Are the Symptoms?

Examine your mouth for sores or lumps, especially on your tongue or lips. Also, look for cracks and discolorations, either lighter or darker than the rest of your mouth. Other symptoms include difficulty or pain when swallowing, difficulty chewing or speaking, and mouth sores. In addition, you may experience weight loss and notice swollen lymph nodes in your neck area.

If you have any of these symptoms, especially sores or lumps that last for over a month, notify your doctor or dentist, who can perform tests to either verify or rule out the existence of oral cancer.

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