Who’s Affected By Mouth Cancer
Mouth cancer is the 6th most common cancer in the world, but it’s much less common in the UK.
Around 8,300 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year in the UK, which is about 1 in every 50 cancers diagnosed.
More than 2 in 3 cases of mouth cancer develop in adults over the age of 55. Only 1 in 8 happen in people younger than 50.
Men are more likely to get mouth cancer than women. This may be because, on average, men tend to drink more alcohol than women.
Mouth cancer can develop in younger adults. HPV infection is thought to be linked with the most mouth cancers that happen in younger people.
How To Reduce Your Risk
Here are ways to lower your risk of getting oral and head and neck cancers:
- Quit tobacco. About 90% of people with oral cancer use tobacco , and their risk increases with the amount and length of time they use. Tobacco is most closely associated with oral cavity cancer specifically, which affects the mouth, including lips, teeth and gums.
- Take precautions against HPV. There is a dramatic rise in oropharyngeal cancer, or cancer in the tonsil and base of tongue associated with the human papilloma virus . You cant see this area yourself, so finding it requires an exam from an ear, nose and throat physician. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and is preventable with a vaccine and/or appropriate safe sex precautions, depending on ones age.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Though less a risk factor than those above, alcohol use can also increase your risk of oral cancers.
- Limit time in the sun. You want to protect your face to combat skin cancer, but in particular, dont forget to protect your lips with sunscreen. They are often forgotten but they need protection too. If you work outside, try to avoid being in the midday sun. You should also wear a hat that shades your face whenever possible.
- Good oral hygiene. Alongside getting your dental checkups twice a year, continue good oral hygiene at home by brushing twice a day andflossing once a day. Talk to your dentist about which mouth rinse they recommend, especially if you have mouth sores.
Mouth Ulcer Vs Cancer: What’s The Difference
Mouth ulcers can look like red or white patches, too. So how can you tell if what you’re seeing is really a harmless ulcer or a sore that needs evaluating?
“One major difference is that a mouth ulcer will come and go within one to two weeks,” says Dr. Kain. “Oral cancer won’t. Any patch in the mouth that lingers beyond four to six weeks needs to be evaluated.”
Other mouth cancer symptoms that can help differentiate it from an ulcer include changes to the patch, such as:
- Progressive growth
“If the patch is changing, that’s a sign that it may not be benign and could be progressing into cancer,” Dr. Kain points out.
Additionally, he says that unexplained bleeding is always a red flag for something more serious.
“Bleeding can happen if you bite an area in your mouth where a sore has developed, but a mouth ulcer typically won’t bleed on its own spontaneously,” explains Dr. Kain. “Whereas deeper infiltrating precancers and cancers of the mouth can have spontaneous bleeding.”
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What Is An Ulcer
Mouth ulcers are small white or red sores that form on your gums, lips, inner cheeks or palate. They can be triggered by several different factors, including minor injuries, hormonal changes and emotional stress. Mouth ulcers arent contagious and they go away on their own but there are treatments to help ease pain and discomfort. Most single mouth ulcers can try be avoided, such as: biting the inside of your cheek, badly fitting dentures, braces, rough fillings or a sharp tooth, cuts or burns while eating or drinking for example, hard food or hot drinks.
Other Traits Of Oral Cancer
Below is a list of some other attributes of mouth cancer that can help differentiate a canker sore vs. cancer.
Oral sores that are bleeding – While canker sores can bleed from time to time, it is more common that mouth cancer bleeds.
Thick lumps in the mouth – Canker sores do not tend to be lumpy, so if the area is lumpy, there is a chance that it could be mouth cancer.
Teeth suddenly become loose with no cause – This is another symptom of mouth cancer that will not be the case with canker sores. If you find that your teeth are becoming loose, this could be due to oral cancer.
Numbness in parts of mouth – Cancer cells can cause nerve or blood vessel damage in the mouth, which can lead to areas of numbness.
Pain, swelling, or stiffness in jaw – Jaw pain can be an indicator that what you have is oral cancer. Canker sores typically do not cause jaw stiffness or pain, however they can cause swollen lymph nodes under your chin or jaw.
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Ulcer Or Cancer: Spot The Difference
There are some fundamental differences between mouth ulcers and what may be cancer. Mouth ulcers are often painful whereas mouth cancer is not. Ulcers will clear up in about 2 weeks, whereas mouth cancer will not go away and will often spread. Mouth cancer patches may be rough, hard, and not easy to scrape off. Canker sores that are painful and do not heal within several weeks. So let us read more about whether its an ulcer or cancer.
Symptoms Of Oral Cancer
Signs and symptoms of oral cancer will vary from person to person. What makes oral cancer difficult to identify is that the symptoms are easy to mistake for other common conditions. Symptoms for oral cancer may include:
- A sore on your mouth or lips that does not heal
- Persistent pain in the mouth
- A noticeable lump or thickening in your mouth, lips, or cheeks
- A noticeable lump in the back of your throat
- White or red patches on your gums, tongue, lining of the mouth, or tonsils
- Sudden changes to your voice
- Persistent pain in your ears
These symptoms can be easily attributed to other conditions. Some of these may be associated with basic dental issues. These symptoms may also be caused by other types of cancer, so its important to consult your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms or any general pain or discomfort in your mouth. You can also perform a self oral cancer screening to examine your mouth area to check for any signs of oral cancer.
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What Causes Mouth Ulcers
Single mouth ulcers are mostly caused by:
- accidentally biting your tongue or inside of your cheek
- bumping the inside of your mouth with your toothbrush
- burning the inside of your mouth with a hot drink
- ill-fitting dentures or a rough edge on a tooth
- a food intolerance or allergy
- a virus, such as herpes simplex or varicella zoster .
You may be more prone to ulcers:
- at times of stress
- when you are quitting smoking
- if you have had radiotherapy to your head and neck area.
Rarely, ulcers can be a sign of something more serious, such as mouth cancer. Ulcers that last for longer than 3 weeks should be checked by a doctor.
Signs And Symptoms Of Oral Cancer
If you have a lesion or sore that is gum cancer, it wont heal on its own like a canker sore. A cancerous ulcer is generally painless and can be determined by a few different signs and symptoms. They include the following:
- Sores in the mouth that bleed
- Thick lumps or tissue in the mouth
- Teeth suddenly loose without reason
- Patches in the mouth that are red or white and blotchy
- Numbness in the mouth
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Mixed Red And White Patches
A mixture of red and white patches in your mouth, called erythroleukoplakia, is an abnormal cell growth thats more likely to become cancerous. If red and white patches last more than 2 weeks, you should see your dentist. You may see these mouth abnormalities before you feel them. In the early stages, mouth cancer may cause no pain.
Bright red patches in your mouth that look and feel velvety are called erythroplakia. They are often precancerous.
What Is The Treatment For Mouth Ulcers
Most mouth ulcers get better on their own within 12 weeks. Until your ulcer heals:
- use a soft toothbrush to reduce further damage
- rinse your mouth with a warm salt-water mouthwash
- avoid foods that make the pain worse, such as spicy or acidic food
- avoid chewing gum
- choose softer foods that are less likely to make the ulcer feel worse
- use a straw to drink cool liquids so they dont touch ulcers in the front of your mouth
- take paracetamol for pain relief.
A salt-water mouthwash can be made by dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water. Using warm water helps the salt to dissolve. Rinse your mouth with the solution then spit it out, don’t swallow it. You can do this as often as you like.
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Differences Between Canker Sores And Oral Cancer
Since they look similar, people often confuse canker sores for oral cancer or vice versa. By knowing the main difference between the two, you can get an early diagnosis and prevent the further development of cancer.
Canker sores differ from oral cancer in a couple of ways:
Canker sores can be quite painful, while oral cancer doesnt usually cause any pain. More often than not, canker sores go away within 10 to 14 days. Yet, oral cancer lesions dont go away and can persist indefinitely. Canker sores are flat, have a yellow or white center, and turn gray as they heal. Oral cancer lesions are either flat or raised and have a white or red color. Even though canker sores can cause temporary pain when eating or drinking something acidic, such as orange juice, they dont lead to problems with speaking, swallowing, or chewing as oral cancer does.
How Are Canker Sores And Cold Sores Diagnosed
Your doctor will often be able to tell if you have a canker sore or a cold sore based on your medical history and a physical examination.
In order to confirm a diagnosis of cold sores, they may take a sample from the sore to be tested for HSV.
If you have canker sores that recur often, your doctor may also perform blood tests to check for nutritional deficiencies, food allergies, or immune conditions.
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Are There Home Remedies For Mouth Ulcers
There are also several things you can do at home to relieve discomfort associated with oral lesions. Here are some tips for healing a mouth ulcer:
- Use over-the-counter topical anesthetic, such as Orajel or Anbesol®.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Practice good oral hygiene to keep your mouth as clean as possible.
- Rinse your mouth with warm saltwater a few times each day.
- Avoid hot and spicy foods until the ulcer heals.
Mouth Ulcer Vs Canker Sore
Everyone at some point in life experiences discomfort and pain in the mouth due to sores, which depending upon their shape can be due to a fever. It may be a cold sore, mouth ulcer, or canker sore. They are more frequent among children and young people, and sometimes they occur in adults over 60 years of age. They are usually very painful and, in most cases, resolve on their own. However, there are some differences between mouth ulcer vs canker sore.
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Red Or White Patches In The Mouth Or Throat
An abnormal looking patch could be a sign of cancer or pre cancerous changes:
- White patches are called leukoplakia.
- Red patches are called erythroplakia.
These patches are not cancer, but if left untreated they may lead to cancer.
Red and white patches in the mouth can also be caused by a fungal infection called thrush. The white patches usually rub off, leaving a sore red patch underneath. If you have anti fungal treatment, and the patches go away, they are not related to cancer.
What Can I Expect If I Have Oral Cancer
Oral cancer includes cancer in your mouth. Like most forms of cancer, early diagnosis and treatment improve the chance that oral cancer will spread. Approximately 1/3 of people treated for oral cancer develop new a cancer. If youve been treated for oral cancer, talk to your healthcare provider about follow-up examinations.
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What Mouth Cancer Looks Like
Surprising to many, mouth cancer can grow in your mouth just like it can anywhere else in your body. According to the American Dental Association , those who use tobacco and/or drink are more likely to develop mouth cancer, as are people over the age of 44 and, more specifically, men. HPV is also the leading cause of cancer at the very back of the mouth and throat .Mouth cancer typically affects your cheeks, lips, tongue, or throat. It usually shows up as flat, white patches on any of those areas. These patches are made up of cells that can lead to cancer. Mixed red and white patches and bright red patches are also signs of trouble.Mouth cancer patches can be rough and hard to scrape off. These areas can also be benign, but its always important to have a dentist check to make sure.Mouthcancer.org also notes that painless ulcers, or canker sores, that dont heal can be a form of mouth cancer. The ADA suggests getting your mouth checked out if signs and symptoms of mouth cancer persist after two weeks.Finally, cancer in the throat may cause symptoms such as difficult or painful swallowing, a swollen but painless tonsil, an ongoing sore throat or hoarse voice, a painless lump on the outside of your neck that has been there for at least two weeks, and constant coughing, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.
How Are Mouth Ulcers Treated
While most mouth ulcers heal on their own, topical treatments may be prescribed to ease discomfort and reduce the risk of complications. Common mouth ulcer treatments include antiseptic gels, steroid ointments or medicated mouth rinses. In severe cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe immunosuppressants.
Just An Ulcer Or Could It Be Oral Cancer
Should your ulcer worry you?
Mouth ulcers are very common and can be due to a variety of reasons. Trauma from accidentally biting your tongue or lip is a common cause of ulcer. Drinking a hot cup of coffee too quickly can also result in an ulcer. Other causes include certain medications, stress, viral, bacterial or fungal infections and certain foods. The mouth is often the part of the body that gives us clues about the health of the entire body. As such, mouth ulcers can also be due to nutritional deficiencies such as deficiencies in Vitamin B12, folate and iron. Skin disorders , gastrointestinal disorder and immunological disorders can manifest as mouth ulcers. Among these many different causes, a persistent mouth ulcer can also be due to oral cancer which if not detected early enough can lead to significant spread to other areas of the head and neck requiring invasive treatment or result even in death.
From 2008 to 2012, about 500 people were diagnosed with oral cancer in Singapore, making up an average of 100 cases a year. In Singapore and other parts of the world, only half of the oral cancer patients managed to survive for more than five years after diagnosis and treatment. It gets more difficult to treat cancer if it is diagnosed later, and this is why its extremely important to look out for the warning signs and go for health checks regularly to detect the early signs.
What Caregivers Can Do
- Use a flashlight to check the patients mouth for red areas or white patches, which often become sores. If the patient wears dentures, remove them before looking.
- Offer liquids with a straw, which may help bypass the sores in the mouth.
- Offer soft foods. Mash or puree foods in a blender to make them easier to eat.
- Try coating mouth sores with Anbesol® or Orajel® before meals to numb them during eating, if OK with the cancer care team.
- Offer pain medicines 30 minutes before mealtime.
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What Do Canker Sores Look Like
Before theoral cancer vs. canker sore debate can be settled, it is essential to understand the defining physical attributes of each condition. Canker sores are typically circular and look like an ulcer. The center of the sore is generally depressed or sunken, creating a shallow crater-like appearance. The center may be pink, white, grey, or yellow. The outer rim is often red or dark pink.
Can I Prevent Mouth Ulcers
Mouth ulcers cant always be prevented but you may reduce your risk by:
- Fixing any damaged teeth, rough surfaces or ill-fitting dentures.
- Avoiding foods that you know cause ulcers for you for some people these include cinnamon and chocolate.
- Eating a balanced diet including enough iron.
- Stopping smoking.
Brocklehurst P, Tickle M, Glenny AM, Lewis MA, Pemberton MN, Taylor J, Walsh T, Riley P, Yates JM. Systemic interventions for recurrent aphthous stomatitis . Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2012 9: CD005411.
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