Mouth cancer is a type of oral cancer that affects all parts of the mouth, including the gums, lips, and tongue. Some early symptoms are persistent pain that feels like a toothache, and patients sometimes report feeling as if they are suffering from a lingering cold. Unfortunately, many people ignore the initial symptoms because they're easy to confuse with other conditions — and much of the time, the symptoms listed earlier have other underlying causes, which clouds the issue even further.

Nonetheless, practicing vigilance when it comes to signs of cancer saves lives. Possible symptoms include swelling, sores, rough patches, red and/or white lesions in the mouth or on the lips, and feelings of numbness or tenderness anywhere inside the mouth. Some mouth cancer patients report experiencing a sore throat that won't go away, persistent pain in one of their ears, the sensation of something being stuck in their throat, and teeth that came lose for no apparent reason. Excessive exposure to the sun over a period of time, the presence of human papillomavirus, and a weakened immune system also heighten the chances of developing mouth cancer.

Types of Mouth Cancer

The majority of those diagnosed with mouth cancer have squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cells are flat, thin cells that resemble fish scales and make up the skin's outer layer. The two less common types of mouth cancer are oral melanoma and verrucous carcinoma. Verrucous carcinoma is a rare variant of squamous cell carcinoma and is most likely to occur in those who chew tobacco. Oral melanoma occurs in the cells that contain pigment, and although its cause remains unknown, research suggests that genetics play a significant role.

Common Causes of Mouth Cancer

People from all walks of life develop mouth cancer, but certain risk factors increase the likelihood of it happening. Lifestyle factors associated with elevated risk of mouth cancer are tobacco use, heavy consumption of alcohol, and a diet devoid of sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables. Risks are even greater when two or more of these factors are combined.

Those who make healthy lifestyle choices significantly reduce their chances of developing mouth cancer. However, because early detection is key to successfully overcoming any type of cancer, regular screenings are essential.

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