Oral cancers commonly begin with a sore or lump on the lips, inside the mouth or on the tongue -- a spot that doesn't seem to want to heal. Gum cancer is the same: Most often it begins with a sore, lump or thick spot on the gums. There may be shiny red patches or white or red lesions on the soft tissues inside the mouth, and tissues may be swollen and bleed. Gums may bleed, teeth may become loose and there may be swelling along the jaw.
Other symptoms of oral cancers may include enlarged lymph nodes, lower lip and chin numbness, chronic earache, hoarseness or voice changes, chronic sore throat or a feeling something is stuck in the throat, and difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking.
If you find a sore, lesion or lump in your mouth and it doesn't go away in less than two weeks -- with or without additional symptoms -- it's important to contact your dentist or doctor for evaluation.
Dentists perform basic oral cancer screenings at the recommended twice-yearly dental check-ups. If your dentist finds an area of concern, follow-up tests and procedures may be in order, including, but not limited to, a physical exam of the oral cavity and lips, endoscopy, X-rays, biopsy, MRI and CT scan. Some of these tests and procedures, such as X-rays and biopsy, are used to diagnose a primary oral cancer while others, such as the MRI and CT scan, are helpful in determining if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, blood vessels and surrounding tissue.
With a diagnosis of oral cancer, most of us would naturally question what caused it. The causes of gum cancer are not entirely clear, but there are a few known risk factors when it comes to developing oral cancers in general. First, sorry, men, but the very fact that you're male puts you at a higher risk here. Also, as our age increases so does our cancer risk, and to some extent heredity is at play here as well. But those are the factors we can't change. There are also environmental risk factors and our own habits to consider. What's the number one cause of gum cancer? One hint -- it's in your hands.