Oral, head and neck cancers include cancers of the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat and larynx.
An estimated 50,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. A number of factors can increase the risk of developing any of these cancers. The most common are tobacco, smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, or using snuff, chew,or smokeless tobacco. Alcohol, especially when you use tobacco at the same time. And HPV, the sexually-transmitted Human Papillomavirus. Patients with weakened immune systems who suffer from persistent or recurring infections are also believed to have a greater risk of developing these cancers.
Early detection can be the key to a cure. With head and neck cancer be on the lookout for a lump or sore that doesn’t heal, a sore throat that doesn’t go away, difficulty swallowing and hoarseness, or a change in your voice.
These symptoms can also be caused by less serious conditions but it’s important to check with an oral and facial surgeon if any of them last for more than a couple of weeks.
Everyone should perform an oral cancer self-exam each month. Start with a bright light and a mirror, and remove any dentures. Then look and feel inside your lips and the front of your gums, the roof of your mouth, the inside of your cheeks and the back of the gums, and all the surfaces of your tongue.
Also feel for lumps or enlarged glands on both sides of your
neck and under your jaw. See an oral and facial surgeon right away if you find white or red patches on the gums, tongue, or inside of the mouth, swelling of the jaw, sores that fail to heal and bleed easily, unusual bleeding, pain, or numbness, or abnormal lumps or thickening of the tissues.
A chronic sore throat or hoarseness, or difficulty chewing or swallowing can also be early warning signs. If your surgeon sees something suspicious a biopsy may be recommended.
A piece of the affected tissue will be removed and sent to a laboratory for an examination. This will allow for an accurate diagnosis and if needed, help your doctor develop a plan of treatment.
Many times, the earlier treatment of an oral, head and neck cancer can begin, the better.