Mouth cancer develops when cells displaying uncontrolled growth, invasion, and/or metastasis (spread) arise in the tissues of the mouth. The mouth represents a variety of structures, which include:
- The Lips
- The Gums
- The Tongue
- Palate (roof of the mouth)
- Floor of the Mouth
- Inner Lining of the Cheeks
Cancers that develop inside the mouth are commonly referred to as oral cancer, or oral cavity cancer. These cancers are part of a broader cancer category, known as head and neck cancers. You can also check out the symptoms of mouth cancer, the staging of mouth cancer, methods of treating mouth cancer, or visit the Oral Cancer Foundation for more information.
Mouth Cancer Risk Factors
Many risk factors associated with mouth cancer may be reduced or eliminated entirely by making a few positive lifestyle choices:
- Tobacco Use: The inhalation and/or chewing of tobacco is the leading cause of mouth cancer. Tobacco use introduces an array of harmful toxins into the tissues in and around the mouth.
- Sun Exposure: Sun exposure is particularly harmful to the delicate tissues of the lips. The sun’s radiation may cause cells in the lip tissue to undergo anomalous mutations, resulting in cancerous cell proliferation.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is responsible for the development of a number of cancers. This virus can cause cells to undergo cancerous mutations. HPV is almost exclusively contracted during sexual intercourse.
- Immoderate Alcohol Consumption: The excessive consumption of alcohol may cause cells in the mouth to mutate into cancer cells.
- Radiation Exposure: If you’ve been treated with radiation for previous illness, your risk of developing mouth cancer is elevated.
Mouth Cancer Prognosis
The prognosis for patients who’ve been diagnosed with a cancer of the mouth varies depending on the time of diagnosis, overall health of the patient, the location of the cancer, and the behavior of the cancer.
The five-year survival rate for patients with early-stage lip cancer is 83%. Late-stage lip cancer patients face a 47% five-year survival rate. 68% of patients with early-stage mouth cancer found in other parts of the oral cavity will live five years after the time of diagnosis. 27% of late-stage mouth cancer patients will survive five years from the time of diagnosis.
Mouth Cancer Prevention
Mouth cancer is a very preventable disease. Most if its risk factors are the result of lifestyle choices, not inherited conditions. The following measures may help reduce your mouth cancer risk:
- Quit Smoking or Don’t Start: If you’re a smoker or chewer of tobacco, talk to your doctor about medications, therapies, social networks, and other methods to help you stop smoking. If you are a parent, start talking to your children about the dangers of smoking at an early age. Most smokers picked up the habit when they were in their teens.
- Consume Alcohol in Moderation: Men should consume no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Women should consume no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. If you’re a moderate drinker, don’t let this information startle you. Many studies indicate that drinking a glass of red wine everyday promotes good cardiovascular health.
- Regular Dental Exams: During a dental exam, a qualified dentist or oral hygienist will usually examine the entire mouth for anomalous growths.
- Limit Sun Exposure: Avoid the sun in the middle of the day. If you must expose yourself to the harmful rays of the sun, wear sun block with an SPF rating of 30 or more AND wear protective lip balm with a similar SPF rating.
- Diet and Exercise: As with all illnesses, a healthy diet and regular exercise is the best preventative medicine. Consume a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimize your consumption of red meats and meats that are high in nitrates (pork and canned meat). Find an exercise routine that complements your body and lifestyle.
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). 1998-2009. Retrieved April, 13, 2009
- Cancer Treatment Centers of America Family of Sites. 2007. Retrieved April 13, 2009
- Healthcommunities.com, LLC. 1998-2009. Retrieved April 13, 2009