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Mouth Cancer Warning Signs

When it comes to mouth cancer, early detection is key. Patients whose cancer is discovered before it can spread to other areas like the lymph nodes face survival odds two and a half times greater than those whose cancer has already spread.

Dentists are trained to identify mouth cancer warning signs, but many Americans fail to see their dentist as often as they should. And even when they do, the time between routine checkups can be too great to catch mouth cancer early enough.

That’s why it’s important to know common mouth cancer warning signs as well as factors that could increase your risk. It could save your life.

Watch for warning signs

The number one mouth cancer warning sign is the appearance of oral lesions in your mouth. These lesions are abnormal cell growths that could be cancerous or precancerous. It’s absolutely essential to have any lesion that doesn’t go away within two weeks checked by a dentist, who may request a biopsy or another test to check for cancer if the lesion looks dangerous.

In addition to oral lesions, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research lists these eight warning signs:

  • A lump or thickening in the oral soft tissues
  • Soreness or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Hoarseness
  • Numbness of the tongue or other areas of the mouth
  • Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable

If you experience any of these symptoms persistently, don’t wait until your next regularly scheduled checkup to mention them to your dentist.

Know common risk factors

Certain risk factors have been proven to increase the likelihood of contracting mouth cancer. It’s important to be completely honest with yourself when considering whether any of these risk factors apply:

  • Tobacco/alcohol use: Smoking makes you three times more likely to develop mouth cancer, and one third of all those diagnosed with mouth cancer drank excessively. Smoking and drinking together increases your likelihood by more than thirty times.
  • Chewing tobacco: Smokeless tobacco has twice as much nicotine as a cigarette and increases your risk accordingly.
  • Diet: Not eating enough fruits and vegetables or getting enough vitamins A, C and E is a common cause of mouth cancer.
  • Age: Mouth cancer is most common in those over 40.
  • Sun exposure: Too much time in the sun can cause cancer of the lip.
  • Secondhand smoke: Even being around someone who smokes increases your risk.
  • Human papillomavirus: This sexually-transmitted infection is linked to certain mouth cancers.