Who Gets Oral Cancer? Symptoms and Risk Factors

Friday, April 03, 2015 9:10 AM

Oral cancers, which include cancers of the lips, cheeks, tongue, hard and soft palates, sinuses and throat, or pharynx (also known as oropharyngeal cancer), often appear first as growths or sores in the mouth that do not go away. In addition to these lumps, bumps and sores of the mouth, potential symptoms include:

  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
  • Numbness/increased tenderness anywhere on the face, mouth or neck
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Feeling of something caught in the throat
  • Hoarse voice or a change in your voice
  • Any difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw/tongue

As with any cancer, early detection and treatment is paramount. Your dentist can conduct oral cancer screenings during your regular dental exam.

Though everyone should be examined for oral cancer, Nicholas Campbell, MD, Medical Oncology, shares some of the risk factors that can increase your chances of developing the disease:

  • Smoking. Lung cancer isn’t the only cancer smokers need to worry about. Smokers of cigarettes, cigars and pipes are far more likely to develop oral cancer than those who have never smoked. 
  • Use of smokeless tobaccos. Smokeless tobacco is also hazardous to your health. The use of chewing tobacco and snuff greatly increases a user’s risk of developing cancer of the lips, gums and cheek. 
  • Consumption of alcohol. The excessive consumption of alcohol has been linked with an increased risk of oral cancers.
  • Family history. A history of cancer in the family increases one’s risk of developing many types of cancer, including oral and oropharyngeal.
  • Sun exposure. Multiple severe childhood sunburns not only increase one’s risk for certain types of skin cancer but can increase one’s risk for cancer of the lips as well. 
  • Men over the age of 50. Studies by the American Cancer Society say that men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer in their lifetime. Men over age 50 are at the greatest risk for the disease. 
  • HPV exposure. A particular virus, the human papillomavirus (HPV), is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.  This virus also increases risk for oropharyngeal cancers.
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