Signs of Oral Cancer, Early Warning Signs, First Oral Cancer Symptoms, Pictures

Knowing the early signs of oral cancer or mouth cancer can mean you start management early enough. Chances of getting it cured may depend on it. Oral cancer symptoms may be evident on the tongue, gums and other parts of the mouth. Here are pictures and the first oral cancer signs to look out for.

What is oral cancer? Cancer is uncontrolled growth of cells that damage the surrounding tissue. Oral cancer therefore, is uncontrolled growth or sore of cells in the mouth that last longer. Mouth cancer includes cancer of the tongue, lips, cheeks, gums, mouth floor, hard and soft palate, throat and sinuses.

Oral cancer is said to be the most dangerous since it is likely to go unnoticed by the patient during the early stages. (Early oral cancer symptoms may not be easily evident). It is known to prosper with no pain or any easily recognizable symptoms during early stages unless.

  • Due to this it has 20 times higher risk of developing another second cancer.
  • In many cases, it is only noted when it has metastasized to the surrounding areas especially lymph nodes.

Discovery at this stage is extensively worse than when discovered when it is in a localized intra oral areas. This because the primary malignant growth has had time to plague to inner body structures like the sinus.

Early signs of oral cancer

At the early stages, oral cancer may not produce symptoms. Most people can easily think they are suffering signs such as mouth patches and white spots from dipping or oral ulcers and blisters from HPV. Since the cancer can affect any of the working parts of the mouth, signs can appear on gums, tongue, tonsils, throat, roof of mouth etc.

According to Health Line, “In the early stages, mouth cancer rarely causes any pain.” The lack of pain can make it difficult to notice that something is wrong. Here is a list of the early signs and symptoms of oral cancer.

Leukoplakia white patches in mouth
Leukoplakia white patches in mouth
  • Development of white and red patches in the mouth
  • Recurring sore that doesn’t heal
  • Swelling inside the mouth or thickening oral tissue
  • Unusual oral bleeding (epitaxis)
  • Chewing and swallowing problems
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Painful jaw and tongue movements or pain in the mouth
  • Progressive swelling
  • Unusual surface changes
  • Sudden tooth mobility
  • Speech problem
  • Non healing ulcers in the mouth or lips
  • Prolonged hoarseness
  • Unexplained numbness in the mouth

If you see any of these early symptoms of oral cancer, ensure that you see your doctor. Early and quick diagnosis helps in managing and limiting the spread of the growth in your mouth.

Other Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Mouth cancer has been linked to HPV, dipping or chewing tobacco and excessive consumption of alcohol. The symptoms of mouth cancer may therefore be visible on the tongue, gums and lips. When it is clearer that you have cancer cells developing in your mouth, you are likely to experience the following signs of oral cancer.

1. White and red patches in mouth

White and red patches in the mouth are associated with development of malignant growth of cells in the mouth. The mouth cancer appears in different forms and can affect all parts of the mouth. White patches that rub off could be a sign of mouth cancer.

Red patches in mouth early oral cancer symptoms
Red patches in mouth
  • Leukoplakia white patches are common in people who dip or chew tobacco.
  • It is evident as a grayish or white patch inside the surface of the mouth – gums, cheeks, roof of mouth and even tongue.

However, according to the Cancer Research UK, “A white or red patch in the mouth or throat does not necessarily mean cancer. A fungal infection called thrush can cause them. The white patches of thrush usually rub off, leaving a sore, red patch underneath.”

Red patches and spots may also be a sign of oral cancer. They may also be areas of abnormal cell growth. These are called erythroplakia and may present as lesions of the oral mucosa that presents a bright-red velvety plaque.

Prescience of white and red patches that are painless should be taken seriously and visit a dentist to look the changes in the mouth and advice accordingly.

2. Thickening Lump jaw or cheek

A lump is a thickening in the oral tissue or soreness that does not heal or resolve itself within two weeks could be a sign of mouth cancer. It should be evaluated for further treatment just to be sure if its cancer or not. Red hot lump that do not go away and keeps on becoming bigger in the neck can be attributed to cancer and should not be ignored.

  • Lumps that come and go may not be a sign of cancer.
  • A hot lump in neck is likely to be a sign of infection rather than a cancer.
  • Cancerous lumps in neck and jaw are a sign of a swollen lymph node, a common symptom of oropharyngeal cancers.

3. Feeling of an object in the throat or sore throat

Do you feel like something stuck in throat all the time, when lying down or when swallowing? Feeling like there is something stuck in the throat (dysphagia) can lead to difficulty in swallowing saliva and food is a sign of a serious infection. When the feeling remains for an extended period of time is an early warning sign of oral cancer.

Mouth cancer may spread to the esophagus and larynx and cause further symptoms. According to the American Cancer Society, one of the most common signs of esophageal cancer, and possibly oral cancer is dysphagia. “The most common symptom of esophageal cancer is a problem swallowing, with a feeling like the food is stuck in the throat or chest, or even choking on food.”

4. Numbness or pain on tongue or inside the mouth

Numbness of the tongue or any other areas in the mouth such as chin, lips may be related to cancer. Loss of feeling in the mouth or areas of the face may be due to affected nerve endings.

Unexplained numbness around the mouth or inside the mouth which doesn’t heal and keeps on recurring needs to be reviewed. Numbness of the mouth is an early warning sign of oral cancer.

According to Dr Chris of health hype, Paresthesia of the tongue is any abnormal sensation like numbness, tingling or prickling (pins or needles felling). The tongue is one of the most sensitive organ of the body. Sensation of temperature, pressure texture and pain are often heightened on the tongue and also is capable of a unique sensory function taste (dygeusia).

5. Swelling of the mouth

Swelling of the chin, jaw or may occur elsewhere in on the face leading to other complications that need to be reviewed as soon as possible since it has been found to be another early sign of oral cancer.  Jaw swelling that makes denture painful or fit poorly or the swelling of the mouth is an early sign of oral cancer.

Stomatitis is a term used for a swelling mouth which disrupts person’s ability to eat, talk and sleep. This can occur anywhere inside the cheeks, gums, tongue, lips and palate”

6. Ear pain or loss of hearing

An earache that keeps on recurring even after antibiotic treatments and ear drops should be reviewed with seriousness since it is another known major early sign of oral cancer. Loss of hearing is a major fact which has been attributed as a sign of oral cancer. The loss of hearing may be partial or total loss, thus any ear infection should be examined by a specialist for proper and timely redress.

According to American society of clinical oncology, a sense of fullness or pain is caused up by the buildup of fluid in the middle of the ear or trouble hearing or to some cases hearing loss has been found as one of the major symptom of oral cancer. Any changes and experiences should be looked at by doctor who will look at and ask how long and how often one has been experiencing the symptoms. American family physician notes that the patients that smoke and take excess alcohol have higher risks of developing  otalgia

7. Oral bleeding

Oral bleeding may be nose bleeding and mouth bleeding which may be an indicator of oral cancer especially if the bleeding keep recurring it calls for specialized review. Unusual bleeding which has no explained causes is an indicator of serious infection which need to be look at by a doctor to address and recommend the best medication or advanced procedures to be taken.

American cancer society states “bleeding in the mouth are often caused by mouth sores, gum (periodontal) diseases or low platelet count”. This is been echoed also by Canadian Dental Association that the presence of blood regularly in the mouth should be cause of concern and need to be evaluated to determine whether it is cancer or not.

8. Swallowing problem, speaking problem, breathing problem and chewing problems

When tumor has developed in the sinuses or back of the neck, one may experience trouble breathing as tumor grows. If the tumor happens at the back of the throat swallowing of food becomes a problem, it is an indicator of an advanced cancer. Any changes in the neck and throat need to be reviewed and addressed appropriately

Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) according to oral cancer foundation is one of the first symptoms of oral cancer is due to tumor growing and narrowing the food passage. This symptom is usually common to those suffering from the cancer of gullet (oesophagus). The other symptoms that accompany dysphagia are regurgitation of food, vomiting, coughing, chocking and pain swallowing (odynophagia). American speech language hearing association states “tongue cancer can cause problem with the some sounds” which also is echoed by UK cancer research.

9. Loose teeth

Loose tooth for no known cause is an early sign of oral cancer.  In such a case one should visit the dentist for close examination to determine the actual cause of loose tooth which can help to seek medical remedies in early stages of oral cancer which makes it possible to avoid the cells multiplying to other or close tissues. Loose teeth for no apparent reason should be addressed early.

10. Changes in the denture

Changes in the way the denture fit on one another is another sign of oral cancer. Any changes in the structure or feeling discomfort of the denture should be alarming and call for doctors’ examination.

Gingivitis and preceding periodontitis are problems that involve the gums. Gingivitis (gum inflammation) occurs before periodontitis (gum disease). According to published research in cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention these problems occurs to many smokers and periodontitis is also known to cause one loose tooth and its effects are irreversible.

11. Persistent sore on the face

Sore that causes discomfort or that are painfully sensitive on the face for a prolonged period of time is first oral cancer symptoms. The persistent face sore therefore calls for doctor review and advice just to be able to prevent and address the causes and in cases of where they are a sign of cancer one can be able to seek medication at early stages which makes it treatable

A lump on or in the face, nose or mouth

12. Persistent mouth sore

Mouth sore which is recurring is another sign of oral cancer. Moth sore that comes as a result of unknown causes need doctor examination. The sores are major early signs of mouth cancer more so to those who smoke and are take more than 30 pints of alcohol in a week. Any mouth sore then should be reviewed when there is still time to determine the cause and address it.

The Cancer Council Victoria attributes at least 75% of head and neck cancer to be caused by cigarette and heavy drinking which majorly causes a persistent sore or selling in the mouth or jaw.

 13. Persistent pain in the mouth

Persistent pain in the mouth is another most common sign of oral cancer. Un explained mouth pain for an extended period of time or that keep of recurring is another major sign which is attributed to oral cancer.

Stomatitis is a term used for an inflamed and mouth sore that can disrupt a person’s ability to eat, talk and to some extent sleep. The overall effects of stomatitis is weight loss due to affected eating.

14. Persistent sore throat

Sore throat that keeps on recurring despite treatment is a common symptom of oral cancer. Sore throat is an indicator of an infection and to many extents it occurs to any person at least in one’s life time. But persistent and recurring sore throat even after treatment is an early sign of underlying advanced infection that has been attributed to oral cancer.

Sore throat refers to pain, itchiness or irritation of the throat. Sore throat can affects people of all the ages but the risk is much more in children, smokers, allergic people and those with compromised immune system

15. Speech problem or voice changes

Speech that sounds quiter, husky or as if one have cold or trouble pronouncing some words can also be attributed to oral cancer. Changes in speech for a period longer than two weeks and keep on recurring for some time is a sign of oral cancer.

Muscular diseases that affect the jaws, teeth and mouth can impair speech. According to heart health newsletter Speech is affected through pitch and quality of voice by abnormalities of vocal cord which include inflammation, polyps, cysts and tumors

16. Non- healing Ulcers

Ongoing pain or discomfort in the mouth is a common sign of oral cancer. An ulcer (a broken area of a skin) inside the mouth that does not heal is attributed to cancer. Ulcers that are painless is one of most common sign of oral cancer.

Moth ulcers are painful oval sores that commonly appears in the mouth and heel themselves within a week or two with no need to visit a doctor. However non healing ulcers that may develop in the cheeks, lips and tongue especially those who drink alcohol, use tobacco products and affected with HPV should visit the doctor. It is important to review mouth cancer while chances of survival are high

17. Dramatic weight loss

Weight loss is a sign of many cancers, oral cancer hinders eating thus one may eat less due to mouth pain since it is painful and also may be difficult to swallow. Extreme weight loss therefore is a sign of advance cancer thus if one loses a lot of weight and not dieting should seek doctors’ advice.

According to Cancer Centre UK, oral cancer develops in the tissues of the mouth or throat and spread to squamous cells found in the mouth which affects eating, swallowing, and chewing which may lead to malnutrition which if extended for some time leads to dramatic weight loss

18. Headache

A nuisance problem in the head that cause pain for a period of time is an indicator if an infection. Headache is a normal infection that occurs to people at one stage of life which may not be indicator of cancer, but extended headache for a longer period of time is also a signs of oral cancer.

Headache (cephalgia) according to WHO as the “the pain in the head which accompany many diseases and conditions”. Reports by WHO states that 47% of adults worldwide will have experienced headache within the year. Headache can be a standalone illnesses or a symptom of another condition.

19. Swollen lymph nodes / glands

Common occurrence of swelling in the lymph glands is another sign of oral cancer. Lymph nodes are filter and collect and destroy bacteria and viruses and any other foreign bodies with the help of macrophages. When body is fighting an infection the lymphocytes multiply rapidly and produces swelling of the lymph nodes. Extended swelling therefore is a indicator of a more complex infection which is also an early sign of oral cancer.

Lymph nodes are small bean shaped glands throughout the body. They carries fluid, nutrients, and waste material between the tissues and bloodstream. Swollen lymph nodes (generalized lymphadenopathy) that doesn’t go away within a month should be checked by your doctor.

20. Sinus infections

Sinus infections are infections that affect the tissue in the paranasal sinus which is a bone of the skull or face. Infections in sinus are rare and persistent infections therefore are a known sign of oral cancer.

Sinusitis occurs when sinus infection occurs when your nasal cavities and nasal passages become swollen or inflamed.  Relentless pressure and swelling in the sinuses can cause headache, earaches, toothaches and pain in jaws and cheeks.

21. Pain in the eye

Eye infections are also common to people without being a sign of oral cancer. However persistent eye infection is also one of the signs of oral cancer.

Eyes pain according to MedlinePlus encyclopedia is described as a burning, throbbing, aching or stabbing sensation in and around the eye. Eye pain is a regular condition without serious condition however persistent eye pain may be as a result of sinuses infection or to some extent may be caused by oral cancer.

22. Persistent bad breath

Bad breath is a common phenomenon to many people in their life time which may not necessarily mean it’s a sigh of cancer. But persistent bad breath that keep on worsening and that generally happen often due to illness is another major sign of oral cancer.

Bad breath (halitosis or malodor or fetororis) can be embarrassing and tough on those around one. Bad breath can be attributed to bronchiectasis, bronchitis, gum diseases, tooth decay, tonsillitis and sinusitis. Regular dental checkups should be done to ensure oral hygiene are picked up and treated early

23. Difficulty moving jaw or tongue

Jaw and tongue movements should always be smooth and not painful or difficult. Difficulty in jaw movement for a prolonged time is a sign of serious cause or infection, one of them being oral cancer. Jaw joints (temporomandibular joints) are very important for normal mouth opening, eating and talking. Temporomandibular disorders is one of the symptoms of oral cancer

24. Prolonged hoarseness

Prolonged hoarseness of voice especially that is caused by years of smoking tobacco and sometimes from dip (chewing) it is another most common warning sign of oral cancer.

Having a dry harsh voice therefore, calls for doctor review to determine the cause and its impacts to one health. Hoarseness is an abnormal change in your voice. One should seek doctor advice on chronic or prolonged hoarse ness.

25. Persistent oral thrush

Oral thrush occurs when yeast infections develops inside the mouth or tongue. Oral thrust is mild infection that rarely causes complications but it can be problematic in cases where there is weakened immune system. Persistent oral thrush are also symptoms of advanced oral cancer.

Causes of Oral Cancer (Summary)

The exact causes of oral cancer are unclear although it’s linked with certain life styles. Tobacco is one of the lifestyle factors that medics have linked to oral cancer. Tobacco includes all type of intake cigar; cigarette, pipes, dip (chewing tobacco) and snuff are reported to contribute about 90 percent of oral cancer.

Other causes that are attributed to oral cancer are heavy alcohol use, eating habits and age. Risk factors such prior radiation treatment, exposure to chemicals with oral cancer. Historically, oral cancers have been occurring to people who are above the age of 40 years at the time of discovery.

Currently it is also affecting younger people and it’s now clearer through peer reviewed research that human papilloma virus (HPV) number 16, which is a sexually transmitted. Too much sun exposure have been proved to contribute to oral cancer and weakened immune system which makes one vulnerable to infections that can lead to oral cancer since the body cannot manage to fight the bacteria and viruses.

Sources and References

  1. Mouth Cancer Action Month: What is Mouth cancer?
  2. MedScape: Leukoplakia and Erythroplakia – Premalignant Squamous Lesions of the Oral Cavity
  3. urac.org .what is face pain?
  4. Health line: What is sore throat?
  5. WedMD: What are lymph nodes?

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