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Female patient opening her mouth for the doctor to look in her throat. Otolaryngologist examines sore throat of patient.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is also known as mouth cancer or cancer of the oral cavity. It is a significant health concern in Australia and globally. Moreover, it encompasses a range of cancers affecting the mouth’s various parts. For example, the lips, tongue, gums, and the floor or roof of the mouth, often presenting on the sides of the tongue and the mouth’s floor. Thus, this blog aims to provide an extensive overview of this cancer. It discusses its definition, causes, symptoms, detection, and treatment, primarily drawing from authoritative Australian resources.

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer refers to the malignant growths that can appear in any part of the oral cavity. Certainly, it’s an aggressive type of cancer with a 50% five-year survival rate. It is largely because it tends to go undetected until it reaches an advanced stage. Hence, awareness and early detection are critical for improving outcomes.

Symptoms and Warning Signs

In its early stages, oral cancer may not present any symptoms, which contributes to late diagnosis. However, there are warning signs to be vigilant about:

  • Persistent sores, lumps, or changes in the mouth’s soft tissues
  • Ulcers lasting more than two weeks or recurrent ulcers
  • Unexplained bleeding or blood blisters that don’t heal
  • White or red patches inside the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing, jaw or tongue movement
  • Swollen glands under the jaw or swollen jaw
  • Numbness in the mouth or changes in voice

Detection and Diagnosis

Regular dental check-ups are crucial as dentists perform screenings for oral cancer during routine examinations. This is also why individuals with no natural teeth, including those who wear dentures, should still undergo regular dental inspections for any abnormalities​.

The Most Common Form: Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most prevalent type of oral cancer, affecting the soft tissue linings of the mouth (oral mucosa)​.

Risk Factors

In its early stages, oral cancer may not present any symptoms, which contributes to late diagnosis. However, there are warning signs to be vigilant about:

  • Persistent sores, lumps, or changes in the mouth’s soft tissues
  • Ulcers lasting more than two weeks or recurrent ulcers
  • Unexplained bleeding or blood blisters that don’t heal
  • White or red patches inside the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing, jaw or tongue movement
  • Swollen glands under the jaw or swollen jaw
  • Numbness in the mouth or changes in voice

Tobacco Use

All forms of smoking, including vaping, cigarettes, cigars, and marijuana, increase the risk of this cancer. Thus, quitting these habits is the most effective prevention. Also, dental professionals can offer support and strategies for cessation.

Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol intake, even at moderate levels, increases the risk of this cancer. So, the Australian Guidelines for Alcohol Intake suggest no more than two standard drinks per day to mitigate this risk.

HPV and Oral Sex

Certainly, HPV transmission through oral sex is a known risk factor for oral cancer, particularly affecting the throat. Both men and women are recommended to practice safe sex. Also, receive HPV vaccinations (Gardasil and Cervarix) to lower the risk of infection.

Sun Exposure

The lips are vulnerable to sun damage, which can lead to cancer. Thus, to prevent harmful UV rays, it is recommended to use SPF15+ lip balm and sunscreen, and to wear hats.


The course of treatment for this cancer depends on the cancer’s stage at diagnosis and may involve surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Oral cancer is a severe yet often preventable disease. Most importantly, awareness of its symptoms, risk factors, and the importance of regular dental check-ups can significantly improve early detection and outcomes.

In understanding this cancer, we must emphasise the importance of education and preventative healthcare in mitigating the impact of this aggressive cancer type. By staying informed and proactive, we can work towards reducing the incidence and mortality rates associated with this cancer.


At The Cosmetic Dental Spa in Hurstville, we uphold the highest standards of patient care, creating an experience that embodies both comfort and excellence in dental health services. Our clinic is a sanctuary where advanced periodontal treatments are administered with precision and care, ensuring every patient achieves optimum oral health. We are ideally situated for those living in Hurstville and its environs, inviting residents from Beverly Hills, Kingsgrove, Bexley, Penshurst, Carlton, Allawah, Beverley Park, Blakehurst, Carss Park, Connells Point, Kogarah, Kogarah Bay, Lugarno, Mortdale, Oatley, and beyond to experience dental care at its finest. Our commitment to oral health is unwavering, with a focus on providing personalised periodontal care tailored to the unique needs of each individual, ensuring that the health foundation of their smile is as strong as it is aesthetically pleasing.

In the dynamic landscape of Hurstville and its neighbouring suburbs, The Cosmetic Dental Spa stands as a pillar of complete dental wellness. We cater to every dental requirement, from routine check-ups and cleans to emergency dental services, with the ability to provide same-day ceramic restorations thanks to our state-of-the-art CEREC technology. Our comprehensive services extend to root canal treatments, wisdom tooth extractions, the crafting of veneers, crowns, and implants, as well as offering periodontics, children’s dentistry, and aligners for orthodontic correction. Equipped with in-house X-ray machines, we ensure a prompt and effective diagnosis and treatment process. Every aspect of our practice is designed to make your visit efficient, thorough, and as comfortable as possible.

Our philosophy at The Cosmetic Dental Spa is underpinned by the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality dental care. We are dedicated to offering a wide spectrum of dental services that cater to the diverse needs of our patients. From preventive care to the artistry of cosmetic dentistry and the meticulous execution of complex dental procedures, our team at The Cosmetic Dental Spa is unwavering in their commitment to dental excellence. This dedication is evident in our gentle approach and the meticulous attention to detail we apply in every treatment, ensuring that each and every patient departs with a smile that is both stunning in appearance and exceptional in health.

Frequently Ask Question

  • Oral cancer refers to the group of cancers that occur in the oral cavity, including the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, gums, and sometimes extending to the throat. It starts in the cells lining the mouth and can be aggressive if not detected and treated early.
  • The most commonly affected areas include the sides of the tongue and the floor of the mouth. However, these cancer can also occur on the lips, inside the cheeks, gums, and the back of the throat.
  • Oral cancer represents up to four percent of all cancers diagnosed in Australia, with a notable increase in incidence in recent years. It predominantly affects people over the age of 40 and is more common in men than women.
  • Early signs may be subtle and include persistent sores, lumps, or ulcers that do not heal within two weeks; white or red patches in the mouth; unexplained bleeding; and difficulty with chewing or swallowing. However, in its earliest stages, this cancer may not produce any symptoms.
  • Oral cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage because early-stage oral cancers usually do not cause symptoms, or the symptoms may be similar to less serious conditions, which can lead to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.
  • Tobacco contains carcinogens that can cause mutations in the cells of the mouth, leading to cancer. This risk is present in all forms of tobacco use, including smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and also smokeless tobacco. The combination of tobacco use with alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk.
  • Yes, there is a strong link. Alcohol can act as a solvent, enhancing the penetration of other carcinogens into the cells lining the mouth. It also metabolizes into acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical that can damage DNA and promote cancer.
  • Yes, while smoking is a major risk factor, oral cancer can also appear in non-smokers. Other risk factors like alcohol use, HPV infection, and sun exposure (for lip cancer) can contribute to the development of this cancer in individuals who have never smoked.
  • HPV, particularly strain HPV16, is a significant risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the back of the mouth and throat). It is transmitted through oral sex and can cause mutations in the throat cells, leading to cancer. The increase in HPV-related oral cancers has been a concern, and vaccination against HPV is recommended to reduce this risk.
  • Yes, men are at a higher risk of developing this cancer. This disparity is thought to be due to higher rates of tobacco and alcohol use among men, which are significant risk factors for the disease
  • Oral cancer is most commonly diagnosed in individuals over the age of 40. Risk increases with age, and the majority of cases are found in the older population​
  • Reducing the risk involves quitting tobacco use, moderating alcohol consumption, protecting lips from sun exposure, maintaining a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, practicing safe sex to reduce HPV transmission, and getting vaccinated against HPV​2​​1​​3​.
  • Yes, particularly for the lips. Chronic sun exposure can lead to cancer on the lips. Using lip balm with SPF15+ and applying broad-spectrum sunscreen is recommended for protection against harmful UV rays​1​.
  • Dentists can perform screenings for this cancer as part of routine dental examinations. This includes checking not just the teeth but also the entire oral cavity for any unusual changes or lesions​1​.
  • Treatments include surgery to remove the cancerous growths, radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells, and chemotherapy to target cancer cells throughout the body. The specific treatment plan depends on the stage and location of the cancer​1​.
  • Early detection significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and can lead to a cure. The prognosis is best when this cancer is diagnosed and treated in its initial stages before it has spread​1​.
  • The five-year survival rate for oral cancer is approximately 50%. However, survival rates vary depending on several factors, including the cancer’s stage at diagnosis, location, and the patient’s overall health​1​.
  • It is generally recommended that adults receive an oral cancer screening as part of their routine dental check-ups, which are typically advised every 6 to 12 months. However, individuals with higher risk factors may need more frequent screenings​1​.
  • No, denture wearers should still undergo regular oral cancer screenings. Dentists will examine the gums and other soft tissues in the mouth to check for abnormalities, which is crucial even for those without natural teeth​1​.
  • Precancerous lesions in the mouth are abnormal cell growths that can potentially develop into cancer. They are not yet cancerous but may become so if left unchecked. Regular dental check-ups can aid in the early detection of these lesions, improving the chances of preventing the development of oral cancer​1​.
  • Oral cancer is considered a type of head and neck cancer. It shares risk factors with other cancers in this category, such as tobacco and alcohol use, HPV, and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infections. A family history of these cancers can also be a risk factor​2​.
  • A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of this cancer. Nutrient-rich foods contain antioxidants and other compounds that can help protect cells from damage that could lead to cancer. Conversely, a balanced diet rich in these foods may help reduce the risk.
  • Yes, HPV vaccines, which protect against the high-risk strains of HPV known to cause cancers, can reduce the risk of developing oral cancers associated with HPV infection.
  • Symptoms of advanced oral cancer may include persistent lumps or sores in the mouth that do not heal, severe pain, difficulty chewing or swallowing, significant weight loss, and changes in speech. If any of these symptoms are present, it is critical to seek medical attention immediately​2​.
  • A self-exam for oral cancer involves looking and feeling inside the mouth for lumps, sores, or white or red patches. Using a mirror and good lighting, examine all areas of the mouth, including the roof, floor, tongue, cheeks, and the back of the throat. Report any abnormalities to a healthcare professional.
  • Oral cancer can be particularly aggressive due to its ability to quickly invade surrounding tissues and spread to other parts of the body (metastasize). Additionally, its location in the mouth can complicate early detection, as changes may be subtle and mistaken for other benign conditions.
  • Lifestyle changes to help prevent oral cancer include quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, maintaining good oral hygiene, eating a balanced diet, protecting lips from the sun, and having regular dental check-ups that include oral cancer screenings.
  • To protect against lip cancer, use a lip balm with a high SPF, avoid excessive sun exposure, especially during peak hours, and wear a wide-brimmed hat to shield the face and lips from UV rays.
  • In Australia, various support services are available for individuals diagnosed with oral cancer. The Cancer Council provides a helpline (13 11 20) for information and support, support groups for shared experiences, practical services like transport to treatment, wig services to help with self-confidence, and an online community for further support. They also offer e-learning resources for cancer education and podcasts for additional information and support​3​​4​​5​​3​.

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