Information on Mouth and Throat Cancer:
The causes of mouth and throat cancer
Scientists are not yet familiar with all of the causes of mouth and throat cancer, but there are a number of factors that are known to increase your risk.
The primary factors in the UK seem to be alcohol and tobacco – especially in combination. Pipe and cigar smoking in particular, greatly increase your chances of developing cancer of the cheek or lip.
The people at higher risk of mouth and throat cancer tend to be older people, and are more commonly male.
The Epstein-Barr virus has also been discovered as a cause of cancer of the nasopharynx (an area behind the nose), but this is very rare in the UK.
The symptoms of mouth and throat cancer
The symptoms of mouth and throat cancer can vary quite considerably, depending on which part of the mouth or throat are affected. However, a list of general symptoms has been included for your information:
- A painless ulcer or sore that does not go away.
- Pre-cancerous conditions within the mouth such as leukaplakia (thickened white patches) or erythroplakia (red patches) on the surfaces of the mouth that can develop into cancer.
- The most common area for mouth cancer is the tongue or bottom of the mouth. It is very often painless but some people experience pain. Slurring of speech is possible if the tongue is affected.
- Occasional bleeding within the mouth.
- Difficulty and pain when chewing or swallowing.
- Loose teeth.
- Enlarged lymph gland in the neck
The symptoms shown above can also be the result of other medical conditions, but if you are experiencing any of the above, you should consult your doctor immediately. On occasion, it may be your dentist that spots any abnormality. He or she will refer you to your doctor.
Methods of diagnosis
Having taken your medical history, your doctor will conduct a physical examination of your mouth, throat and neck. This may involve the use of small mirrors and a bright light to improve visibility.
If necessary, the doctor may use a nasendoscope to get a better view of the back of the mouth and throat. The nasendoscope is a narrow flexible instrument that is passed through the nose to access the throat. It can also be used to obtain a biopsy (under local anaesthetic) from inaccessible places within the throat.
It may be necessary for you to be examined more thoroughly under general anaesthetic if there is a strong indication of cancer of the mouth or throat.