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 Early Diagnosis Key to Mouth Cancer Treatment

In the United States, cancers of the mouth and throat cause about three percent of all new cancer cases in men and two percent of all new cancers in women.  The American Cancer Society estimates almost 29,000 new cases of mouth cancer will be diagnosed this year.  More than 7,000 patients will die from this disease each year.  In spite of how easy it is to examine the mouth, these cancers are usually diagnosed at an advanced stage when aggressive treatment is required.  With improvements in surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, the survival rate for mouth cancer has improved over the past three decades.  The simplest way to improve the cure of this condition is by early detection and treatment.

Mouth cancer tends to occur in older patients and is typically seen in patients 45-70 years of age.  The most common complaint is an ulcer in the mouth that does not heal.  Ulcers in the mouth are a common feature of many illnesses, but they are usually temporary and heal with time or treatment.  A persistent mouth ulcer can affect speech or swallowing over time and will eventually become painful.  Risk factors for the development of mouth cancer include chronic alcohol use, chronic tobacco use, and poor condition of teeth and gums.  A mass or lump surrounding the area of ulceration can also occur.  Other symptoms of mouth cancer include difficulty with speech or swallowing, unexplained mouth pain, or a lump or mass in the mouth.

Diagnosis is based on examination of the mouth and neck area followed by a biopsy.  In general, biopsies of the mouth can be performed in the office with local anesthesia.  Once the diagnosis is established, patients often require a CAT scan of the mouth and neck area for a better assessment of the extent of the problem.  Cancers of the mouth can spread to other parts of the mouth and neck area and a CAT scan is an effective method to evaluate these areas.  Treatment consists of surgery or radiation for early mouth cancers.  Both treatments offer excellent cure rates with few side effects when diagnosed early.  Unfortunately, may patients wait until the disease has spread before seeking medical attention.  Screening for mouth cancer can be performed by a variety of health professionals.  If you have a non-healing ulcer, unexplained lump, or chronic discomfort in the mouth, see your health professional regarding this problem.