Nearly 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with mouth or throat cancer every single year, so we should all learn the telltale signs and symptoms. The most common symptoms are lumps, sores, and persistent pain in the mouth, but there are lots of other indicators we should never ignore. Oral cancer is any cancer that involves the mouth, lips, gums, and tongue. It is often associated with throat cancer, since the disease can start in either spot and spread easily to the other. Since anyone can get mouth cancer, we all need to remember the signs so we can identify the onset of cancer symptoms. People who smoke or use tobacco products are at a higher risk, but this type of cancer can strike anyone, even if they have never chewed tobacco in their life.
Sign #1: Sores On/In Your Mouth
Sores in your mouth that might be cancerous are usually flat, painless patches in the inside flesh of the mouth. They may be white or red, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Be careful not to confuse these scarier sores with extremely common ailments like canker ulcers and cold sores. Cold sores and canker sores are usually painful or tingly, and often develop a “head” of some kind in the center. Potentially cancerous sores may not hurt, but they might bleed without warning or explanation. Any sore that lasts more than three weeks warrants a doctor’s opinion.
Sign #2: Lumps And Thick Patches
Lumps and thick patches of skin inside the mouth might indicate that mouth cancer is developing. You might be able to feel these changes with your tongue. They might feel like bubbles and ridges, or a bit like calluses. Thickening is especially common in the inside of the cheek, according to Ken Beadling Dentistry.
Sign #3: Loose Teeth
Loose teeth are never a good sign in adulthood, and might help warn you of a cancer developing. If you feel like your teeth are jiggly, you need to get a medical opinion right away. There are lots of reasons your teeth might feel loose, but only a medical professional can determine if cancer is the cause.
Sign #4: Lump In Your Throat
A lump in your throat, which is sometimes called a “globus sensation,” is the feeling of having something trapped that you just can’t swallow. You may even find that swallowing itself becomes difficult. It’s a very common symptom, and usually nothing to worry about, but you should check with your doctor if you feel like you cannot swallow, if you can actually feel or see a lump in your mouth or throat, or if you’re finding that food and liquids are coming back up. In these cases, there might be a real mass blocking your throat, not just the sensation of one.
Sign #5: Pain In One Ear
Pain in your ears might just be a surprising symptom of cancer developing in your mouth. That’s because the ears are actually very closely linked to the mouth and throat, and it’s very common for pain to refer back through the ears if there’s a problem in the mouth cavity. According to Men’s Health, the nerve that communicates with the back of the tongue also communicates with the ears, which is why your ears might pick up on the pain first.
Sign #6: Numbness In Your Mouth Or Tongue
Numbness in your mouth might mean you suddenly lose sensation in just one part of your mouth, like a cheek or the tip of your tongue. It also might mean you lose some or all of your sense of taste. Numbness happens when nerve signals are interrupted, potentially by a mass or a patch of abnormal cells. You may not realize at first that numbness is occurring, so watch out for secondary symptoms, like drooling and difficulty chewing.
Sign #7: Trouble Moving Your Jaw
Pain in the jaw is a very common symptom, and is usually a sign of a mild condition like temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). However, consider it a serious warning sign when jaw pain and tightness is accompanied by swelling and the sensation that your teeth or dentures aren’t fitting together right. That combination of symptoms might indicate that something is disrupting the normal movement of your jaw from the inside, thus causing the pain and lack of mobility.
Sign #8: Thick Or Slurred Speech
Vocal changes of any kind are an important symptom to be aware of. If your voice suddenly becomes hoarse or scratchy, it can indicate that something is wrong in your throat or at the back of your mouth, while slurred, clumsy speech could indicate problems with the tongue and lips. If you notice either of these symptoms, especially in conjunction with other symptoms, schedule an appointment with your general practitioner or an ear, nose, and throat specialist right away.