Cancer is a condition whereby cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue, including organs. There are more than 200 different types of cancer, and each is diagnosed and treated in a particular way.
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Cancers vary greatly in terms of their location and symptoms but one theme is constant – the importance of spotting it early.
When cancerous cells spread to other parts of the body, your treatment options can dwindle considerably, along with your chances of survival.
What’s more, some cancers can be cured if caught early enough.
This is the case for mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, a tumour that develops in a part of the mouth.
According to the NHS, if mouth cancer is found early, surgery may be used, which has a high chance of curing the cancer so it does not come back.
“That’s why you should report any changes in your mouth to a dentist and doctor if they do not get better after three weeks,” advises the health body.
Many of the common symptoms can be caused by less serious conditions, such as an infection.
One warning sign easily attributed to less serious causes is bad breath.
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As Cancer Research UK explains, most people have bad breath at some point in their life and it is not cancer.
“But if you have cancer, bad breath might be worse and happen more often,” the charity says.
Other symptoms include:
- Sore mouth ulcers that do not heal within several weeks
- Unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth that do not go away
- Unexplained, persistent lumps in the lymph glands in the neck that do not go away
- Pain or difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Changes in your voice or problems with speech
- Unintentional weight loss
- Bleeding or numbness in the mouth
- One or more teeth that becomes loose for no obvious reason, or a tooth socket that does not heal after a tooth is removed (extraction)
- Difficulty moving your jaw
- Red or white patches on the lining of your mouth. These are common and are rarely a sign of cancer, but they can sometimes turn into cancer, so it’s worth seeing a doctor if you have them
Am I at risk?
It is not known what causes all mouth or oropharyngeal cancers, but there are some factors that can increase your risk of developing it.
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Research suggests that more than 60 out of 100 (more than 60 percent) of mouth and oropharyngeal cancers in the UK are caused by smoking.
“There is some evidence that people exposed to secondhand smoke (passive smoking) at home or in the workplace may have a small increase in their risk of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer,” says Cancer Research UK.
Drinking alcohol increases your risk of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.
Research shows around 30 out of 100 (30 percent) of mouth and oropharyngeal cancers are caused by drinking alcohol.
According to Cancer Research UK, a diet low in fruit and vegetables may also increase your risk of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.
This might be due to a lack of vitamins and minerals.
A balanced diet usually means you are getting enough vitamins and minerals.
In addition to poor lifestyle choices, research shows a slight increase in risk of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer if you have a close relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had mouth cancer.
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