Oral Cancer: Facts, Prevention, and Screening

Commonly referred to as “oral cancer”, head and neck cancers include those of the mouth, throat, nasal cavity and salivary glands.

Because of their unique understanding of the structures of the face, mouth and neck, oral and maxillofacial surgeons are experts in diagnosing and surgically treating all forms of head and neck cancer. Unfortunately, due to a lack of public awareness, oral pathology is often caught in its later (and more dangerous) phases. That is why Dr. Wasson wants you to know that early detection is so important! Read on for tips on catching this disease while it is still curable.

Reducing Your Risk of Oral Cancer

The main known risk factors for oral cancer are tobacco use (smoking and smokeless forms), excessive alcohol consumption, and some forms of the HPV virus.

Survival rates are considerably higher when the cancer is smaller in size than after it has grown. In addition to regular screenings with a professional, you should perform monthly checks at home. It only takes a few minutes to watch and feel for the following oral cancer symptoms and perform the quick 8-step self-exam below.

Oral Cancer: Signs to Look (and Feel) For

  • Lumps, bumps or sores that don’t heal within 2 weeks
  • White or red patches inside the mouth
  • Pain or hoarseness that persists
  • Unusual bleeding or unexplained numbness

8 Quick Steps: Checking for Oral Cancer at Home

  1. Face: Examine your skin for growths, changes in color, sores or changing moles.
  2. Head and Neck: Look for symmetry. There shouldn’t be any bumps, lumps or swelling on one side of the face or neck.
  3. Neck: Feel the neck for lumps or tenderness. Hold the “Adam’s apple” and swallow; it should go up and down.
  4. Lips: Pull on the lips separately, looking for abnormal texture, color, lumps or sores.
  5. Cheeks: Hold the cheek between two fingers and feel for any lumps. Look at the inside of the cheeks for sores.
  6. Gums: move the lips out of the way to check the gums for any discoloration, patches of red or white, sores and lumps.
  7. Tongue: Move the tongue around and look as far back as you can for unusual patches, lumps or sores. Look at the sides and underside of the tongue. As you move the tongue up, examine the floor of the mouth as well.
  8. Roof of the Mouth: Check the roof of the mouth as far back as possible and the tonsils as well – feeling and looking for lumps.

Cancers of the head and neck are often categorized as either “oral cancer” or “throat cancer”, as these are the most common forms, however others do exist.

Types of “head and neck” cancers:

  • Oral Cavity: The lips, gums, cheek lining, the floor of the mouth, the roof of the mouth, and the front 2/3 of the tongue make up the oral cavity.
  • Pharynx (throat): A hollow tube roughly five inches in length, the pharynx goes between the nose and the esophagus, and is made up of three parts: the nasopharynx (upper), the oropharynx (middle), which includes the back of the mouth, the base of the tongue and tonsils, and the hypopharynx (lower).
  • Larynx: Commonly known as the voice box, this region contains the vocal cords and it also includes the epiglottis, which prevents food from entering the air passages.
  • Salivary Glands: These are located near the jawbone in the floor of the mouth.
  • Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinuses: The hollow space inside of the nose (nasal cavity) and the small hollow spaces in the bones surrounding the nose (paranasal sinuses).

Any unusual signs in the mouth or throat that do not resolve on their own in two weeks warrant a call to Dr. Wasson. Please, don’t hesitate to call – early detection is the key to the cure with oral cancer. Seattle Office Phone Number 206-632-0220