I have been getting many letters recently about suspicious lumps appearing in peoples mouths, gums and tongue. The dear readers are always very upset, very frightened, and it is understandable, as they all suspect oral cancer. I wish I could just shrug these fears off as paranoid self centered delusions, but sadly, I cannot. As oropharyngeal cancers are on the rise, and are the fastest growing types of cancer, and is the one with the most victims among young people. As such, the fear is warranted, and small lesions in the mouth can turn out to be oral cancer, but they can be slight swellings, cold sores, cysts, and a number of harmless things as well. The problem is that they cannot be distinguished from each other based on the descriptions that I frequently get, as they could either be early oral cancer, or just a random lump from a trauma. If you feel lumps and growths, book an emergency appointment immediately, instead of writing to a doctor on the internet.
Typical positions of oral cancer
Some lumps are more suspicious than others. For reasons that are not entirely clear, certain places are more likely to develop oral cancer or become cancerous than others. One typical position is on the side of the tongue, both left and right. The place where the tongue meets the bottom of the mouth, near the lymph nodes and the salivary glands is a particularly favored place for oral cancer.
The gums are also a favored place, right below or above the teeth, embedded in the soft tissues of the gingiva. Lesions and sore on the gum near the roots of the teeth are suspicious and should be inspected immediately. Growths on the cheeks and the lining of the cheeks are also sometimes cancerous, although sores and other such spots are much less likely to become oral cancer.
Although these are typical positions, oral cancer can occur anywhere in the mouth, so any growth is suspect, especially if it bleeds a lot, is swollen or grows rapidly.
Aside from smoking, there are other risk factors that should be taken into consideration. If you have or are experiencing any of the ones listed below, you should be extra careful:
-If you have HPV, you should definitely go and check out any growth in your mouth. HPV has been linked to provoking an immune response that turns cells cancerous, and is a risk factor.
-If you are obese, you are more likely to develop oral cancer, and are more likely to develop periodontitis as well. Although the link is not well understood, the correlation between oral cancer and obesity does exist, and is being studied.
- Men are almost 50% more likely to develop oral cancer than women. Unfit men are even more likely to develop oral cancer than men who engage in regular physical exercise.
-Lifestyle choices also play a large role in whether or not you develop oropharyngeal cancer. Drinking, infrequent sleep, and a party lifestyle make you more likely to develop oral cancer.