Oral cancer affects inside the mouth, inside of the cheeks, roof of the mouth, floor of the mouth, below the tongue, gums, tongue and lips as well. When it affects the soft palate (the area where throat meets the roof of the mouth) and the tonsils – then it is known as oropharyngeal cancer.

Oral cancer is a monstrous killer – which spreads in a very injurious way rather subtly. The seriousness of oral cancer can be ascertained from the fact that, in the initial stages the cancer seems not to cause any damage as the symptoms look quite mild and often similar to the less serious flu and cold symptoms – such as sore throat, throat pain, difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness, cough, ringing in ears and earache. Due to this very reason, many people ignore the warning signs of oral cancer assuming them to be those of less serious cold and flu. Therefore, this fact can be the reason for the prolong latency period of oral cancers. Majority of the oral cancer are detected quite late – mostly in the advanced stages – due to this very reason. Therefore, majority of the cancer patients won’t get timely treatment. The most common symptom is a sore inside your cheek or lip that won’t heal. But you may not notice any symptoms at first.

Sore on the lip or inside your cheek

The sore inside your cheek or on the lip is the most common symptom, but many people may not notice it. This sore does not heal. In addition, you may feel a lump or white or red patch in the mouth. The other symptoms include soreness, hoarseness, pain, bleeding, numbness in the mouth, voice changes, and ringing in ears. Loosening dentures and teeth without any obvious cause can also be a sign, but could also be due to other less serious issues. Whatever may be the cause, you should inform your head and neck surgeon as soon as you notice something unusual in your mouth.

Tell your doctor if you notice any symptoms so they can help you figure out the cause.

White patches (Leukoplakia) and red patches (erythroplakia) are the other prominent signs – rather warning signs. The other signs may include burning sensation after eating and severe burning sensation after having spicy food. Difficulty in opening the mouth and limited mouth opening for normal eating causes hindrance in normal eating.

Precancerous Lesions and oral cancer

People who are habituated tobacco users (chewing tobacco, tobacco-based products and smoking) are at an increased risk of developing precancerous lesions in their mouth. There is a huge risk associated with the development of precancerous lesions if a person chews tobacco, smokes and consumes alcohol as well. But the risk can be minimized if the habituated individual discontinues all unhealthy habits and then approaches a head and neck surgeon for prompt treatment and follow-up care. This will help in stopping the spread of cancer and preventing future complications.

Therefore, if you develop a sore or ulcer that doesn’t heal for 2 to 3 weeks – and in turn increases progressively in size, then you should take prompt note of it and see a head and neck cancer specialist. In addition, look for other symptoms as well – such as inability to open mouth, difficulty moving tongue, tongue pain, throat pain, loosening of teeth and unusual persistent lump in the neck or in the jaw. Even a slight delay in approaching a specialist can make the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment very difficult. Therefore, don’t take any chances whatsoever.

The other Signs and Symptoms

Ear pain, jaw pain, bad breath, loose tooth or teeth, numbness in the mouth, tongue pain, trouble speaking and moving jaw, hoarseness, tiredness and fatigue all the time and unexplained weight loss are the other warning signs of oral cancer. In addition to the major signs, these signs do need prompt attention.

In majority of the oral cancer cases, both the prominent (major) and minor warning signs go unnoticed. This is the most worrisome trend in India mostly in the youngsters. Unfortunately, most oral cancer patients present late either due to ignorance or due to the fear of a cancer surgery.

If you experience any two major warning signs along with a few other signs and symptoms, then immediately seek medical help. It will save your life.