People tend to talk about oral cancer as if it is a singular condition. In reality, however, several different types of oral cancer - and potentially concerning precancerous lesions - exist that you might develop. Since these cancers and cancerous lesions vary widely, learning a little more about each one will help ensure you seek the appropriate care when you notice concerning symptoms.
1. Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This is, by far, the most common type of oral cancer in the United States. About 34,000 people receive a diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma each year. This is most common in smokers, chewing tobacco users, and those over the age of 50. Heavy alcohol use also dramatically increases the risk of this type of oral cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma may appear on the lower lip, the floor of the mouth, or on the tongue. Often, the lesions are small and painless at the onset, so your dentist may notice them before you do.
If a medical professional catches and treats the cancer early - generally with surgery - the five-year survival rate is 75 to 90 percent, depending on the location of the lesion. If not treated promptly, squamous cell carcinoma can spread to the lymph nodes, which cuts the survival rate approximately in half.
2. Verrucous Carcinoma
Only about five percent of oral cancers are verrucous carcinoma. This form of cancer causes growths that resemble cauliflower. They may form on the tongue, roof of the mouth, or even further down the throat in the larynx. When it affects the throat, verrucous carcinoma may cause a hoarse voice and trouble swallowing.
The biggest risk factor for verrucous carcinoma is smoking or chewing tobacco. Patients with ill-fitting dentures are also at an increased risk for the condition.
This form of oral cancer is very slow-growing, and the prognosis is good. If diagnosed, you will need surgery to remove the tumor and possibly radiation therapy. Quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of rest can help prevent the cancer from coming back.
3. Salivary Gland Carcinoma
People often overlook salivary gland carcinomas until they're pretty serious since the lesions are hard to see. The tumors may form in any of your three sets of salivary glands: the sublingual, submandibular, and parotid glands. These glands are located beneath your tongue, under your mandible, and at the back of the mouth, respectively.
While anyone can develop salivary gland carcinoma, this form of cancer is most common in older adults and those who have undergone radiation therapy on their head or neck. Symptoms of salivary gland carcinoma include an unexplained lump near your jaw, numbness in the face, unexplained and lasting face pain, and fluid draining from your ear.
Salivary gland carcinoma easily spreads to other parts of the body and becomes much harder to treat. Treatment usually involves surgery, and in later stages, radiation and chemotherapy.
Erythroplakia is a type of precancerous lesion. These lesions are bright red in color and may be smooth or slightly nodular. They're usually painless, and they refuse to heal. Not all erythroplakia lesions are cancerous, but many are - so you should definitely have your dentist look if you develop a red, slow-healing spot in your mouth.
Leukoplakia is another type of potentially cancerous lesion. These lesions are white or gray with an irregular shape. Sometimes, leukoplakia is not serious and are simply a reaction to an infection or trauma to the mouth. However, they can become cancerous, so have your dentist keep an eye on them.
Now that you know a little more about the types or oral cancer, you know what symptoms to watch out for. Make sure you see your dentist for regular checkups. A standard dental checkup includes an oral cancer screening to ensure your dentist diagnoses and treats any problems early on. Contact Dr. Devins if you want a new dentist in the Cocoa Beach area.