CANCER IN MOUTH
HOW YOUR PHYSICIAN OR DENTIST CAN ALLOW
CANCER TO GROW AND CAUSE DEATH
Your primary care physician and family dentist have continuing obligations to be knowledgeable of signs and symptoms of oral cancer. Your doctor/dentist should assume any lesion in your oral cavity of unknown origin that persists over two or three weeks could be oral cancer, unless proven otherwise. Let's explore why.
Your physician or dentist is trained to recognize visual abnormalities in your oral cavity that could be pre-cancer or cancer, usually a cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, which simply means, cancer invading the surface or subsurface (mucosa) of your tongue or other soft tissues in your oral your cavity. If the lesion is of unknown origin, versus tissue irritation from your teeth biting your tongue or cheek tissue, fractured tooth, broken cavity with sharp edges, deep cavity, poor fitting crown or veneer, ill-fitting partial denture or full dentures irritating the soft tissues, then oral cancer should be assumed until ruled out. Also, other non-cancerous growths, such as fungus, thrush, or several other non-cancerous growths should be ruled out. Again, with suspicious sores of unknown origin, consider cancer.
Cancer must be suspected, because untreated oral cavity pre-cancer or cancer can grow, spread to other body areas and cause functional and cosmetic dysfunctions and also death. Therefore, it is imperative you take mouth tissue abnormalities seriously.
If your tongue, gum or cheek sore/lesion persists without a medical explanation, your doctor/dentist should refer you to an oral surgeon, or an ear, nose and throat specialist, to biopsy the suspicious tissue. There are several types of biopsies. Biopsy specimens are evaluated by tissue specialists (pathologist), who will diagnose if the tissue sample is cancer. If not, that is wonderful. You have peace of mind. If your specimen is cancer, the next step is referral to a specialist familiar with immediate treatment of oral cavity cancers. Usually a diversified medical team will determine appropriate treatment. Many treatments are available, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination. The important thing is immediate treatment, because the earlier cancer is treated the more likely a cure or better outcome.
It is a good idea to occasionally self-check your oral cavity looking for abnormalities such as, white spots, sores, change in color, texture or appearance. If you see or feel something unusual, consult with your dentist or physician.