Oral cancer kills as many Americans as skin or cervical cancer, and is a rising issue among women, young people, and non-smokers.
As many as 90% of head and neck cancers arise from prolonged exposure to specific factors. The use of tobacco (including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco or snuff) and alcoholic beverages are closely linked with cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box and tongue.
That said, however, more than 25% of oral cancer victims have been found to not smoke, or abuse alcohol, so it’s important that you be aware of the symptoms.
Some of the common presenting features are:
A lump in the neck…
Cancers that begin in the head or neck usually spread to lymph nodes in the neck before they spread elsewhere. A lump in the neck that lasts more than two weeks will be referred to one our Board-certified ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) physicians/colleagues as soon as possible. Of course, not all lumps are cancer. But a lump (or lumps) in the neck can be the first sign of cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box (larynx), thyroid gland, or of certain lymphomas or blood cancers. Such lumps are generally painless and continue to enlarge steadily.
Change in the voice/hoarseness…
There are many causes of hoarseness. Fortunately, most are not serious and tend to go away in a short period of time. Some common causes of hoarseness are acute laryngitis, vocal nodules, gastroesophageal reflux and damage caused by smoking. Some less common, but of most importance causes include thyroid problems, neurological disorders, trauma to the voice box, and cancers of the voice box and gullet.
We pay careful attention to any hoarseness or other voice changes, and if such changes been found to have a history of lasting more than two weeks you will be referred to one our board-certified otolaryngology physicians/colleagues as soon as possible. They can examine your vocal cords easily and painlessly. While most voice changes are not caused by cancer, we do not take any chances.
A growth in the mouth…
Mouth cancer can affect any part of the mouth, including the tongue and lips. The most common symptoms are having a sore or ulcer for more than three weeks. You should see your dentist or doctor if you have any symptoms in your mouth that are unusual. The outlook for people with mouth cancer is very good if it is diagnosed early. If an ulcer or swelling is accompanied by lumps in the neck, be very concerned.
Dysphagia is the medical term for a swallowing disorder, meaning you have difficulty or pain almost every time you try to swallow something. During our routine examinations if we note dysphagia is present for any length of time or if it is accompanied by certain symptoms ( weight loss, lump in the neck or glands, breathing difficulties, regurgitation of food or drink, hoarseness or voice difficulties) you will be referred to one our board certified ENT physicians/colleagues as soon as possible to ascertain the cause.
Constant pain in or around the ear when you swallow can be a sign of infection or tumor growth in the throat. This is particularly serious if it is associated with difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness or a lump in the neck. These symptoms are best evaluated by an otolaryngologist.
What should I do if I have these symptoms?
All of the symptoms and signs described here can also occur with no cancer present. In fact, many times complaints of this type will be due to some other condition, but it is impossible to tell without an examination.