Studies have shown that 1 in 80 people can develop early signs of oral cancer throughout their lifetime. The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin (mucosa) that is smooth and coral pink in color. Any alteration in this appearance could be a warning sign for a pathological process. The most serious of these is oral cancer. The following can be signs at the beginning of a pathologic process or cancerous growth:
- Reddish patches (erythroplasia) or whitish patches (leukoplakia) in the mouth.
- A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily.
- A lump or thickening on the skin lining the inside of the mouth.
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness.
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing.
These changes can be detected on the lips, cheeks, palate, and gum tissue around the teeth, tongue, face and/or neck. Pain does not always occur with pathology, and curiously, is not often associated with oral cancer. However, any patient with facial and/or oral pain without an obvious cause or reason may also be at risk for oral cancer.
We would recommend performing an oral cancer self-examination monthly and remember that your mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems. Do not ignore suspicious lumps or sores.
If a suspicious area is detected by your dentist, we will evaluate the area for a possible biopsy. This means a representative, small sample of the lesion is removed and submitted to an oral pathologist. The pathologist will microscopically examine the lesion on a cellular level and determine the diagnosis.
Majority of small lesions in the oral cavity is due to mechanical trauma (cheek biting) or tobacco use, or it can be a congenital defect. The biopsy will give a definitive diagnosis and your doctor will give you recommendations based on the findings.