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Understanding Oral Cancer & Why It Happens

Are you having a sore in your mouth that isn’t healing? While your sloppiness may tell you that it’s nothing more than a cold sore (Herpes Labialis) and that relying on antiviral creams would be enough, we’d like to bring to your attention that cold sores usually go away within 1-2 weeks. So, surely it isn’t just a cold sore.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), oral cancer accounts for roughly three percent of all cancers diagnosed per annum in the United States, which is about 53,000 new cases each year. ACS even estimates that in 2021, over 54,000 people could be diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer or oral cavity cancer in the US.


Engin Akyurt/Unsplash | According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), oral cancer accounts for roughly three percent of all cancers diagnosed per annum in the United States

Now what exactly is Oropharyngeal Cancer? What causes this and how to detect this at an early stage? Is it remediable? We understand that all these questions are crowding your head. That’s why we’ve tried our best to compile the answers to all your possible queries in this post.

What is Oral Cancer?

Variously known as mouth cancer or oral cavity cancer, a tumor that develops in the tongue, lips, and floor of the mouth, or a tumor that develops in the middle region of the throat, including the tonsils and base of the tongue known as oral cancer. The one that lines the squamous cells is known as squamous cell carcinomas (cancers), and the one that is found in the oropharynx is known as oropharyngeal cancer. 

Despite what you may think, not all tumors in the mouth are cancer; some are benign as well. And some others can be precancerous, that is, they might become cancer in future but aren’t so now. Oral cancer mostly occurs in people over the age of 40 and is likely to affect men more than women. It can be distinguished as a type of head and neck cancer.

Oral Cancer: The risk factors

Like the other types of cancer, mouth cancer involves a number of risk factors. They are:

#1 – Tobacco use

About 80% of people diagnosed with oral cancer use tobacco in some form. Those who chew tobacco or snuff develop cancer of the gums, cheek and lips. Whereas, pipe smoking increases the risk for cancer of the soft palate and lips. Again, if one develops oral cancer but isn’t a smoker, it is likely that he/she lives with a smoker or works in a smoking environment which is known as passive smoking.


Aphiwat chuangchoe/Pexels | About 80% of people diagnosed with oral cancer use tobacco in some form

#2 – Alcohol

The chance of developing mouth cancer increases six times if one consumes a lot of alcohol. Simply put, the combination of tobacco and alcohol is particularly dangerous. People who engage in both are six times more likely to get oral cancer than those who do not drink or smoke.

#3 – Other reasons

Other than these, the following are also leading causes for developing oral cancer:

  • Poor nutrition, with diets low in fruits and vegetables
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Use of betel quid
  • Use of Marijuana

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

  • A sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal
  • Unexpected loose teeth
  • A lump in the neck
  • A thickening mass in the jaw, face, cheek, gums, or tongue
  • A constant painful sore in the mouth which causes dentures to fit poorly
  • Difficulty in swallowing, chewing, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Persistent bad breath

Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels | Though it’s scary, oral cancer has become very common and is completely treatable with proper dental care and healthy habits

Does acquiring mouth cancer signify a full-stop in life?

We admit that it’s cancer and seems like the end of the road, but oral cancer has become pretty common in recent times. Therefore, if detected early, it can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation or targeted therapy. 

But why give it that opportunity? Quit tobacco or alcohol asap, limit exposure to the sun and conduct a self-exam or visit a dentist at least once a month.

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