Tumors that occur in the mouth can significantly interfere with the form and function of the mouth. As you can imagine, having an abnormal growth anywhere in the mouth can cause speaking, swallowing and even breathing difficulties. Large tumors can also cause significant pain and visible deformity of the mouth and lower face. Movement of the tongue, closing of the lips and nerve related problems can also occur with mouth tumors.
Cancerous growths in the mouth account for 5% of all cancers worldwide and can often go unnoticed for long periods of time since we rarely inspect the areas of our mouths that aren’t readily visible. Often a small, painless bump or ulcer can stay hidden long before it grows large enough to be noticed. A vague soreness of the mouth and inflamed, swollen lymph nodes of the neck may be the first obvious signs of oral carcinoma. Bad breath (a.k.a. halitosis), bleeding and referred pain to the ear are typically signs of oral cancer that has already spread to the surrounding tissue and structures of the head and neck.
Risk Factors for Mouth Tumors
- Tobacco – both smoking and smokeless forms
- Alcohol – alcohol and tobacco have an additive effect for oral cancer.
- Poor oral hygiene – not brushing or getting cleanings regularly
- Poor hydration
- Male gender
- Age > 50 years
A careful inspection of your mouth should be done by a skilled otolaryngologist, like Dr. Bailey, or your dentist. The exam will include an examination of your lips, the inside of your cheeks, tongue and roof and especially the floor of your mouth. Visual examination should be accompanied by manual palpation of the tongue, cheek tissue and floor of the mouth. Ears, nose and neck are also examined for any possible spread and inflamed lymph nodes.
Treatment of oral tumors depends on whether the lesion is cancerous as well as the size and degree to which it interferes with the function of the oral cavity. Surgical removal is a priority if the tumor is cancerous. If there is evidence of or simply concern that the cancer has spread to the surrounding tissue, surgery may be combined with radiation and/or chemotherapy. For very large tumors, chemotherapy may help reduce the size first, to allow for a more manageable surgery.