Warning Signs of Oral Cancer: Are You at Risk?

 In Dental Services, Patient Education

Cancer is a serious disease and has several different variants,  but oral cancer is particularly dangerous because it’s not always caught early. It can fester for months without producing pain or symptoms you’re familiar with and often when it’s detected it may be too late as the tumours may have already started to grow. According to the American Cancer Society there was about 48,000 people diagnosed with 9,700 of these cases being fatal in 2017, so it’s important to know what oral cancer is and how to treat it.

What causes oral cancer and who gets it?

Although the exact cause of oral cancer is unclear, there are certain lifestyle factors that can put someone at risk for this disease. According to the American Cancer Society, men over the age of 50 are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women and about 25 percent of the population will still get oral cancer despite the fact they may not smoke and/or drink.

Risk factors for the development of oral cancer include:

  • Tobacco – including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, etc.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Excessive sun exposure to your lips
  • Family history of cancer
  • Certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Age  (it normally occurs in people over 40)

How is oral cancer diagnosed?

As part of your routine dental exam, your dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening exam, which is quick, painless and crucial to detecting oral cancer in its early stages.  More specifically, your dentist will feel for any lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, face, oral cavity,  look for any sores or discolored tissue as well as check for lumps or anything irregular.


According to the Canadian Cancer Society the most common symptom is an ulcer or sore in your mouth and lip that doesn’t go away after treating it. Other symptoms include:

  • white patches (leukoplakia), red patches (erythroplakia) or a combination of red and white patches (erythroleukoplakia) on the lips or in the mouth
  • a lump or growth on the lips, in the mouth or on the tongue
  • thickening of the inner cheek lining
  • bleeding in the mouth
  • niggling earaches
  • loose teeth
  • dentures that no longer fit
  • slurred speech
  • swollen salivary glands
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • numbness or loss of sensation over the tongue or lips
  • swelling in your jaw
  • voice changes
  • pain when swallowing
  • weight loss


After a diagnosis has been made and the cancer has been staged, treatment may begin and will mostly likely include the work of surgeons, radiation oncologists, chemotherapy oncologists, dental practitioners, nutritionists, and rehabilitation and restorative specialists. Whether you require surgery, a combination of radiation and surgery and chemotherapy, is dependent on the stage of development of the cancer. For those whose cancer is caught at a later stage, the results of surgical removal of the disease may require reconstruction of portions of their oral cavity or facial features.

A regular dental checkup twice a year is an important cancer screening tool. These visits give your dentist the chance to detect any signs of oral cancer in the earliest stages. Visit any of our locations to receive an oral cancer screening and speak to one of our practitioners to maintain optimal health.

If you would like to learn more, please do not hesitate to give us a call or contact us to book an appointment.

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