Over 35,000 new cases of mouth cancer are diagnosed each year. Of those patients diagnosed, little more than half can expect to live more than 5 years.
Mouth cancer carries a particularly high mortality rate, mainly because it is often diagnosed in a very late stage. Oral cancer is the 6th most common cancer among men.
Unlike many other forms of the disease, mouth cancer can be easier to detect. One of the most telltale symptoms is a small lesion, lump, or ulcer that forms on the tongue, lip, or other area of the mouth. These lesions are usually painless at first, but can become more painful and uncomfortable as the lesion grows. Other patients have found white patches, called leukoplakia, or red patches, called erythroplakia, on their mouth’s soft tissue, such as the cheeks.
Other symptoms can include bleeding in the mouth with no obvious source or considerable weight loss. A patient who notices any of these symptoms persisting beyond a few days should contact their physician immediately.
Not all forms of mouth cancer are immediately obvious. Like many forms of the disease, some patients experience common symptoms like fatigue, nausea, and loss of appetite. Some patients with mouth cancer have had trouble swallowing or problems with their tongue. Others have complained of a feeling that something is caught in the back of their throat. Other non-visible symptoms can include:
- Mysterious numbness, loss of feeling, or pain/tenderness anywhere in the mouth, face, or neck
- Hoarseness or changes in the voice
- Chronic earaches
- Ill-fitting dentures due to a change in the patient’s “bite”
If detected early, mouth cancer can be treated effectively with radiation therapy. If a patient does not seek treatment within a reasonable length of time, they may need to undergo surgery to remove parts of the affected areas of the mouth. Possible side effects of surgery include disfigurement of the head, face, or neck. Radiation therapy may cause some difficulty with swallowing due to burning or scarring on the tongue or larynx.
Approximately 81% of patients with various types of oral cancer have a 1-year survival rate.