What are the causes of oral cancer

Cancer of the oral cavity - risk factors and signs

The oral cavity

The oral cavity includes the insides of the cheeks and lips, the teeth, the gums, the front tongue, the floor of the mouth and the front roof of the mouth.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer is a malignant tumor that originates from the lining of the mouth. Any area of ​​the oral cavity can be affected, such as the tongue or the floor of the mouth.

The disease usually occurs after the age of 50. Men are affected in three quarters of the cases. Cancer can be treated better when it is still small and localized.

How does oral cancer develop?

It is not clear why cancer of the oral cavity develops. Certain lifestyle habits can contribute to its development. It has been proven that people are more likely to develop oral cancer if they smoke and drink alcohol regularly over a long period of time. You are 30 times more likely to develop oral cancer compared to people who don't. Experts therefore recommend giving up smoking and largely avoiding alcohol. But not everyone who smokes and drinks gets oral cancer.

Signs of oral cancer

Changes in the oral mucosa, such as wounds that do not heal, can be an initial indication of oral cancer. However, these signs can also have other causes.

Initially, the changes are often painless and rough, raised or indented. It is not uncommon for those affected to interpret this as a pressure point or a bite injury. The lymph nodes on the neck may be swollen. In the further course, pain, fatigue, decreased performance, loss of appetite and unwanted weight loss can also occur.

If the following symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, you should see a doctor or dentist:

  • whitish or red spots in the mouth that cannot be wiped or scratched off

  • mouth sores that often bleed easily and won't heal

  • Swelling in the mouth, sensation of a foreign body

  • unclear tooth loosening

  • Discomfort when chewing and swallowing

  • increased salivation

  • Difficulty speaking

  • decreased mobility of the tongue

  • Numbness of the tongue, teeth, or lip

  • the contact between the upper and lower teeth when the mouth is closed feels different

Detect oral cancer

The doctor takes a sample of tissue from a suspicious place in the mouth. This is examined in detail. In this way, oral cancer can be clearly identified.

Treat oral cancer

How the disease will progress cannot be predicted. This depends, among other things, on how quickly and aggressively the cancer grows and how big it is. Doctors can either operate on or irradiate small, localized tumors.

If the cancer is more advanced, the operation is often supplemented with radiation or radiation chemotherapy.

The treatment also depends on the personal needs and the physical condition of the person concerned. All treatment options as well as their advantages and disadvantages are described in detail in the patient guidelines (see "Explained in detail" below).

What you can do yourself

  • Take care of your mouth and teeth: Brush your teeth, gums and tongue twice a day, preferably in the morning after eating and in the evening before going to bed. Use toothpaste that contains fluoride.

  • Go to the dentist regularly. This should not only examine your teeth but also the lining of your mouth.

  • Watch for changes in the mouth. If in doubt, it is better to go to the doctor again.

  • Smoking increases the risk of oral cancer and many other cancers and cardiovascular diseases. You can find support for quitting smoking, for example, here: www.rauchfrei-info.de.

  • Try to drink little, if at all, alcohol.

  • Cancer can cause anxiety or depression. It can help to accept spiritual support.

  • You can get help with social or legal questions, for example, from social services, cancer counseling centers or self-help organizations.

July 2017, published by the German Medical Association and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians