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Oral Cavity (Mouth)

Mouth Diagram
The mouth (or oral cavity) includes the lips, tongue, floor of mouth, gingiva (mucosal lining around the teeth), buccal mucosa (lining inside the cheeks), retromolar trigone  (space directly behind your upper and lower back teeth), and the hard palate (roof of mouth).   Cancers of the oral cavity can present in a variety of ways.  They may be firm masses, ulcers, or other abnormal lesions on the structures of the oral cavity that persist or worsen over time.  They can be associated with pain in the mouth, bleeding, loose teeth, ear pain, and even new bumps or masses in the neck.  Many of these symptoms can occur due to routine non-cancer related reasons and this can make it difficult to differentiate a malignant (cancerous) lesion in a patient’s mouth from a benign lesion or trauma (i.e. injury from biting one’s cheek or lip).  If you have a new oral cavity lesion ithat continues to be present or worsens over several weeks, you should seeks consultation with a Dental or Medical professional to help make a diagnosis.

When you see a medical professional he or she will get a thorough history from you regarding the mass, the symptoms you are having, and also about your personal health history.  Your health care provider will ask you about things that increase your risk of having an oral cavity cancer such as cigarette smoking, chewing tobacco, high alcohol intake, and chronic trauma in the mouth such as repeated biting the tongue, cheek, or lip. Your caregiver will also perform a physical exam that will focus on the head & neck including examining your lesion and how it is affecting your normal functioning, and carefully feeling your neck for any masses (bumps). If there is any suspicion that your lesion may be cancer, your doctor will likely recommend a biopsy (obtaining a small piece of tissue from the lesion) so that a diagnosis can be made. This may be done at the initial visit in the office, or may be done in the operating room with the patient under general anesthesia depending on the location of the lesion and the comfort level of the patient and the health care provider.

Throut Diagram

Diagnosis: Oral Cancer
If you are given the diagnosis of oral cavity cancer, the term you will most likely hear is squamous cell carcinoma, which is a cancer that arises from the squamous cells that make up the lining of the lips and mouth.  While squamous cancers are most common, benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) lesions can also arise from minor salivary glands (tiny salivary glands that are dispersed throughout the mouth) or from bone or dental structures.  Treatment for cancers of the mouth typically involves surgery as the first-line option, with the method reconstruction depending of the location and extent of the cancer.  Radiation treatment for oral cavity cancers may be recommended following surgery for very advanced or recurrent cancers, Chemotherapy may be utilized before or after surgery as additional treatment, again depending on the type, location, and severity of your disease.