Oral Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Tuesday, December 6, 2022 - 6:44pm

We wanted to take the opportunity to educate our patients about oral cancer, its symptoms, causes, and treatments. Oral cancer is the fastest growing cancer, but it's also the most readily preventable. Be sure to take advantage of this information to get your mouth in the best condition possible. Since your oral health is directly connected to your physical health, this will help you get in the best overall shape for the holidays and the coming new year. If you have any questions or need to schedule an appointment, call our Arlington, VA office, and we can help you.

A doctor show a patient a tablet

What Symptoms Indicate I Have Oral Cancer?

Unfortunately, oral cancer presents without symptoms, and by the time you notice symptoms, the disease has spread. For this reason, we recommend that everyone who is at least 18 gets screened for oral cancer. The screening is painless and non-invasive. Your dentist will perform the screening during your exam.   However, if you notice any of the following four anomalies, call our Arlington, VA dental office for an appointment without delay:

  1. Any sores or ulcerated areas that haven't healed after three weeks
  2. Numbness in your tongue or anywhere else in your mouth
  3. One or more areas of irritated or thickened skin in your lips, mouth, or throat
  4. Red or white areas in your mouth

Even though these symptoms may not indicate oral cancer, they indicate that you have a problem you should address without delay. If you have any questions, call our office, and we'll be happy to answer them.

Are There Specific Causes of Oral Cancer?

A risk factor is any condition that increases your likelihood of developing oral cancer. Although some factors are controllable, some aren't, and some are genetic. For example, if you have a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with oral cancer, you have an increased risk factor. Other risk factors include:


Alcohol abuse is one of the most common risk factors for developing oral cancer. Although many may not realize it, alcohol abuse is defined as having 21 or more alcoholic drinks weekly or more than three daily. Alcohol irritates your sensitive mouth tissues, allowing toxic substances, such as those in tobacco products, to enter the bloodstream and be carried to all your organs.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco is the most common risk factor for developing oral cancer and has been linked to two out of three oral cancer diagnoses. Although the specific type of oral cancer varies somewhat according to the type of tobacco product used, it's all classified as oral cancer. Those who drink heavily and also smoke have a sixfold increase in developing oral cancer over those who do neither or only drink in moderation.

Other Factors

Not all risk factors are within your control, although many are. Having a first-degree relative who developed oral cancer increases your risk factor, although scientists haven't established a definitive genetic predisposition as yet. The following eight additional risk factors may help indicate your likelihood of developing oral cancer, but you may not be able to control all of them.

  1. Age Group: Those who are more than 45 years old are more likely to develop oral cancer
  2. Biological Gender: Those who were born male are more likely to develop oral cancer than are those who were born female
  3. Denture Wearers: Wearing dentures that fit poorly and constantly irritate your mouth tissues increase your risk of developing oral cancer
  4. Dietary Habits: If your typical diet lacks vegetables, fruit, and omega-3 fatty acids, you're at an elevated risk
  5. Previous cancer: A previous diagnosis of head or neck cancer elevates your risk factor
  6. Sun exposure: If you spend lots of time in direct sunlight without wearing sun protection, your risk factor may increase
  7. Radiation: Exposure to radiation increases your risk factor
  8. Specific intimate activities: Certain types of sexual activities have been linked to an increased risk of oral cancer

Although you can't control your age or your biological gender, you can control other factors, so work on those you can and don't stress over those you can't.

How Can I Avoid Developing Oral Cancer?

By changing several lifestyle habits, you can lower your risk of developing oral cancer, such as:

  • If you smoke, vape, or use any other type of tobacco product, quit
  • If you drink to excess, get help and find other methods for relaxing or reducing stress
  • Adopt a regular healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Limit your time in the sun, especially if you're not wearing sun protection
  • Ask your dentist to adjust your dentures, so they fit correctly and are comfortable

Since early detection and treatment is the key to a successful prognosis, get regular dental exams and an oral cancer screening. If you notice unusual symptoms between exams, call your dentist right away.

What Treatments Are Used to Treat Oral Cancer?

Each oral cancer diagnosis is unique to the individual, so there's no standardized treatment protocol. Typical treatment regimens rely on factors such as the location of cancer, whether it has spread or remains localized, the stage of cancer, and the patient's overall health.   A treatment team will generally consist of the general dentist, an oncologist, and possibly a maxillofacial surgeon. The extent of the treatment can range from removing the cancerous tissue to a series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Your treatment team will advise you of their recommendations and support you throughout the procedure.   Since early detection and treatment is the key, we recommend that you get regular checkups and get screened for oral cancer if you're at least 18.

Need to Schedule an Appointment?

If you're due for your annual exam and cleaning, you need an oral cancer screening, or you have any other dental issue, then call Elite Dental Center at (703)243-4500, and we can help you. We're among the best in the Arlington, VA area, and we'd love to help you get your best dental health.