Oral cancer is commonly associated with alcohol consumption and tobacco products. However, recent studies have found additional causes of oral cancer, including the human papillomavirus (HPV). During an oral cancer screening, your clinician will use a variety of techniques and technology to check for abnormal cells or lesions in the oral cavity. Any abnormality will indicate the need for more advanced screenings and tests.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.
- Tobacco Smoking
- Excessive Alcohol Consumption
- Gender (twice as common in men)
- Prolonged sun exposure
- Poor oral hygiene
- Oral HPV infection
Oral Cancer Signs and Symptoms
The earliest signs of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer may be mistaken for other problems, such as a toothache or cold. If symptoms persist for several days or weeks, it is important to see your doctor so that, if oral cancer is present, it can be diagnosed as soon as possible. Many of these symptoms can be due to other, less serious problems or other cancers.
- Unusual lumps or bumps in the mouth, wart-like masses, mouth sores that do not heal
- Pain or difficulty swallowing or chewing
- Unusual nosebleeds or other bleeding from oral cavity
- Distortion of any of the senses, numbness in oral or facial regions
- Sore throat, hoarseness, ear pain
- Progressive swelling, enlarged lymph nodes, shifting of teeth
HPV and Oral Cancer
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is an infection that can be transmitted through sexual contact, unwashed hands and saliva. HPV 16 and 18 have been linked to oral cancer. It is estimated that over 50% of all oral cancers are associated with HPV lesions. A vaccine is now available to prevent infections from HPV 16 and 18.