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Did You Know?
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) type 16 is strongly linked with the incidence of oral cancer. The virus, which is capable of living only in certain kinds of cells in the body, is usually spread by sexual contact.
The term 'mouth cancer' includes many different types of cancers involving sites such as the jaw, salivary glands, lips, tongue, palate, gums and floor of the mouth. Most of these are 'oral squamous cell carcinomas', which is a class encompassing many of the oral cancers. The remaining types of cancers of the mouth involve melanin-producing cells, muscle cells, nerve cells, fat cells and many other types involving different tissues (mostly soft tissues).

Successful treatment of oral cancer depends, in part, on early diagnosis. While only a doctor can tell you if you have oral cancer or not, it is often helpful if you know what the symptoms of mouth cancer are, so that you can seek medical intervention as early as possible. The symptoms of such a broad class of cancers are many. They depend on the tissue and the organ involved, and on the stage to which the cancer has progressed. Given below are the symptoms of different types of mouth cancers involving different organs or types of tissues.

It must be emphasized that different types of oral cancers may have many overlapping symptoms. There is no clear demarcation of symptoms between the different types. The symptoms given below should not be construed as specific only to the types under which they are given.

Symptoms of Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This class includes several cancers like carcinomas of the lip, tongue, alveolar ridge and floor of the mouth.
  • Sores that show no signs of healing and do not resolve several weeks after their initial appearance.
  • Appearance of a small, painless tissue or a small lump (or lumps) in the mouth.
  • Halitosis (bad breath).
  • Persistent sore throat.
  • Painful lesions.
  • Numbness in the mouth.
  • Pain and swelling in lesions.
  • Difficulty with chewing and/or swallowing.
  • Loosening of teeth or having ill-fitting dentures that previously would fit well.
  • Appearance of thickened tissue on lip, tongue, gums or on the mucosa inside the mouth.
  • Appearance of white, painless patches (known as leukoplakia) in the mouth. Such patches may turn malignant and should not be ignored.
  • Appearance of red patches that are flat or slightly raised and smooth. These might also bleed. Known as erythroplakia, such patches, like leukoplakia, have the potential to turn cancerous.
Symptoms of Jaw Cancer
Many of the sufferers of jaw cancer are children, which, if not detected and treated early, may cause disfigurement of the face.
  • Loose teeth.
  • Pain and/or swelling in the jaw.
  • Slight displacement of teeth due to enlarging cancer lesion.
  • Expanding lesions, that in later stages, cause changes in the facial appearance.
  • Absence of teeth - this pertains to teeth that never erupted, even though they should have in the normal course of events in a person's life.
Symptoms of Salivary Gland Cancer
There are numerous cancers involving all the three pairs of salivary glands (parotid, submandibular and sublingual). Many of the symptoms of these cancers are common with the symptoms for other types of oral cancers. Some of these include:
  • Pain in the ear(s).
  • Difficulty opening the mouth.
  • Lumps in the neck or in the throat.
  • Numbness and/or paralysis of the facial muscles.
  • Discharge of fluid from the ear close to the cancerous lesion.
Symptoms of Oral Soft-tissue Cancer
Cancers of the oral soft tissue are not as common as oral squamous cell cancers or other oral cancers of the mouth. Some of them are rare, but can be hard to treat and are nearly always fatal.
  • Slight impairment of hearing ability.
  • Congestion of the nose and/or bleeding.
  • Tissue mass that may or may not bleed and may be painless or painful.
  • A mild burning sensation at or close to the site of lesion in the mouth.
As with any medical condition, the importance of an early diagnosis cannot be stressed enough. Since tobacco and alcohol are common risk factors, quitting smoking and reducing the intake of alcohol would surely reduce the risk of this deadly condition.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.