How Fast Does Oral Cancer Spread?

Oral cancer can cause several warning signs depending on where it develops. If you suspect oral cavity cancer, early intervention is key to a quick recovery and preventing issues down the line. 

Find out how fast oral cancer spreads and what it looks like here. 

What Is Oral Cancer? 

Oral cancer is a broad term for cancer that affects the mouth, throat, and esophagus. 

Generally, oral cancer looks like other problems or changes in the mouth, like white patches or lip sores that won’t heal. However, the difference is oral cancer doesn’t go away with time. 

Common signs of oral cancer may include: 

  • Discoloration inside the mouth

  • Red or white patches in the mouth

  • Lumps in the mouth or tongue

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Mouth pain

  • Loose teeth

  • Ear pain

How Fast Does Oral Cancer Spread?

It’s hard to say how fast mouth cancer will spread. However, untreated, oral cancer can advance throughout the mouth, throat, and other parts of your head and neck

Diagnostic tests can help determine the stage of oral cancer, which describes lesion progression. The five stages of oral cancer include: 

  • Stage 0 - This stage describes abnormal cell growth in the mouth or lips that could potentially become cancerous. 

  • Stage 1 - The cancer is small (less than 2 centimeters) and has not spread to the lymph nodes. 

  • Stage 2 - The cancerous growth has grown to no more than 4 centimeters but has not spread. 

  • Stage 3 - The cancer is larger than 4 centimeters and may have spread to the surrounding tissues or lymph nodes. 

  • Stage 4 - Cancer has spread to nearby tissue in the oral cavity or jaw, a large lymph node, or a distant organ like the lungs. Stage 3 and 4 cancer are more likely to recur. 

Who Is Most at Risk for Developing Oral Cancer?

The cause of oral cancer is hard to pin down and may result from several factors. That said, most cases are related to tobacco and alcohol use, as well as the human papillomavirus (HPV).

 Other oral cancer risk factors may include: 

  • Age (oral cancer is most common in people over age 40)

  • Gender (twice as many men are affected than women)

  • Excess body weight 

  • Poor nutrition

  • Unprotected sun exposure

  • Genetic syndromes 

How Is Oral Cancer Treated?

Your dentist will examine your mouth for potential oral cancer during your regular checkup. If they find anything suspicious, they may refer you to an oral surgeon, who will take cell samples with a scalpel or laser and have them tested at a lab. If the lesion is cancerous, the oral surgeon will likely remove it as soon as possible. 

Oral cancer treatment depends on the stage. Early-stage cancers are usually treated with surgery alone, while more advanced cases may require multimodal therapy consisting of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. 

Factors that may affect how oral cancer is treated also include: 

  • Where the cancer originated

  • The size and type of tumor 

  • Whether or not cancer has spread 

Contact Our Dentists in West Omaha

Early detection of oral cancer can significantly reduce your chances of it spreading. If you spot changes or anything out-of-the-ordinary, contact our dentists in West Omaha as soon as possible. 

Call 402-498-8804 or contact us today to schedule an appointment. 

Author Bio: Drs. Sharlene and Robert Wilson offer a variety of general and cosmetic dentistry services in Omaha, NE. They both earned their doctorate from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry. With over 30 years of combined experience, both are committed to helping patients achieve beautiful, healthy, and long-lasting smiles. Call 402-498-8804 to schedule an appointment. 

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