Oral cancer can often go unnoticed for months because it usually begins as a small non-painful lesion. Routine dental care is a great way to screen for oral cancer. By presenting to the dental office for regular cleanings the dentist has an opportunity to check for cancer frequently.
Approximately one in three people living today will develop some type of malignancy in their lifetime. As cancer detection and treatment have improved, about two thirds of patients will survive their disease. Oral cancer makes up only about three percent of cancer cases in the United States. However, of all those diagnosed with oral cancer, only 50-60% will live beyond five years.
Squamous cell carcinoma makes up the vast majority of cancer found in the mouth. Some of the risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma are tobacco and alcohol use. Sun exposure increases the risk of cancer on the lips. Squamous cell carcinoma is more common with advanced age and is found three times as often in men as in women. Heredity does not seem to be a factor in developing this type of cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma usually appears in the mouth either as an ulcer with rolled up borders or as a small irregular mass. When palpated the area is usually firm and non-painful. The lesions are typically white or red in color. The lesions are most often found on the side and bottom of the tongue, underneath the tongue or near the back of the mouth near the tonsils. Treatment for squamous cell carcinoma in the mouth may involve surgical removal of the affected area, radiation or a combination of both surgery and radiation. The stage and location of the cancer will help determine the treatment indicated as well as the likelihood for survival.
There are many other non-cancerous lesions in the mouth that look similar to oral cancer. If you are ever concerned about any area in your mouth it is best to schedule an appointment with your dentist.