What is oral cavity cancer?
Oral cavity cancer starts in the mouth and includes the lips, cheeks, teeth, gums, front of the tongue, floor and roof of the mouth. The oral cavity stops at the throat just behind the mouth, called the oropharynx.
Oropharyngeal cancer (throat cancer) is closely related to oral cavity cancer (mouth cancer). It includes the back of the tongue, soft palate, tonsils and walls of the throat. Oropharynx and oral cavity tumors occur most often on the:
- Tonsils and oropharynx
- Floor of the mouth
According to the American Cancer Society, oral cancers are more than twice as common in men as in women.
What are the different types of oral cavity cancer?
There are several types of oral cancers, including:
- Squamous cell carcinomas: More than 90% of oral cavity and oropharynx cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. They start in the lining of the throat and mouth. These cancers can spread to other areas of the body and should be removed immediately. A less common subtype of squamous cell carcinoma is verrucous carcinoma, which is slow growing and makes up less than 5% of mouth cancers.
- Minor salivary gland carcinomas: Salivary gland cancer starts in the glands of the lining of the mouth or throat. Salivary glands make saliva and help prevent mouth and throat infections.
- Lymphomas: Immune system tissue is found in the tonsils and tongue, where lymphomas such as Hodgkin-lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma can develop.
- Larynx cancer: Cancers that start in the voice box or lower throat are called larynx and hypopharynx cancer.
What are the symptoms of oral cavity cancer?
Many symptoms of oral cavity cancer are signs of noncancerous conditions. However, if you have persistent symptoms, see your doctor. Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer symptoms include:
- A mouth sore that doesn’t heal
- Persistent mouth pain
- A lump in the cheek or neck
- Red or white patches on the gums, tongue, tonsils or lining of the mouth
- A sore throat or bad breath that doesn’t go away
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- Numbness of the tongue
- Swelling in the jaw
- Loose or painful teeth
- Changes in the voice
- Unintentional weight loss
What are the causes and risk factors of oral cavity cancer?
Oral cancer causes are still unknown; however, scientists have identified some risk factors that may increase your likelihood of developing the disease.
Tobacco and alcohol damages the lining of the mouth and throat, causing cells to rapidly grow and repair the damage. The more often cells divide, the greater the chance for mistakes in DNA, which increases your risk for cancer. In addition to tobacco and alcohol, the following are possible risk factors:
- HPV (human papillomavirus)
- Inherited gene mutations from parents
How is oral cavity cancer diagnosed and treated?
Typically, your dentist or dental hygienist will find signs of oral cancer or pre-cancer during a cleaning. If your dentist or doctor suspects you may have mouth or throat cancer, he or she will perform several tests:
- Medical history
- Physical exam
- Head and neck exam (including lymph nodes)
- HPV testing
- Chest X-ray, CT scan or PET scan
- Barium swallow
- Blood tests
If you are diagnosed with mouth cancer, your doctor will recommend treatment depending on the type, size and stage. Oral cancer treatment options typically include:
- Radiation therapy
Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment at Baptist Cancer Center
At Baptist Cancer Center, we put the needs of our patients first. Providing patients and families with the best possible care is important to us, so we offer the supportive services you need, from understanding your oral cavity cancer diagnosis and our leading-edge treatment options to navigating insurance and financial plans. Our team of medical doctors and specialists is dedicated to designing an individualized treatment plan to help you fight your cancer diagnosis close to home.