Mouth Cancer: When the cells on a person’s lips or their mouth develop mutations to their DNA, that person develops mouth cancer.
Cancer cells then continue to grow and divide, killing off the healthy cells. Those accumulating cancer cells then form a tumor that may spread to other areas of the body near it.
Mouth cancer comes in many forms, affecting all parts of the mouth, both inside and out.
Mouth cancer can occur on the lips, gums, tongue, inner lining of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth, and/or under the tongue. While it’s not always known what causes different mouth cancers, certain behaviors like tobacco use (including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, vapes, and pipes) as well as prolonged sun exposure are just two risk factors for developing mouth cancer. If you feel your aging parent has any of the following symptoms, you should bring him in to the doctor to get him examined. Mouth cancer caught early is often very treatable.
Symptoms of Mouth Cancer
- A lip or mouth sore that won’t heal
If your parent has a cold sore or a canker sore that won’t heal with time, an examination of the cells of that sore will help determine its cause. If your parent has always suffered from either cold sores or canker sores, it may be difficult to tell if this one is different than the others. The main difference at first is simply that it won’t heal on its own.
- A white or reddish patch on the inside of your mouth
This can be quite hard to see or notice and may even take a dentist to spot the rash. When your parent goes to the dentist, ask him to point out if there are any injuries or damage to your parent’s inner mouth area.
- Difficult or painful swallowing
Depending on where the lump is and how large it is, it might begin to hinder your parent’s ability to swallow.
- A growth or lump inside your parent’s mouth
Your parent will need to share this information with you, but a helpful occasional reminder from you or her senior care provider about clear communication about any new lumps is a good idea.
- Loose teeth
A cancerous tumor growing under gums can loosen teeth. If your parent has complained to you or her senior care provider about loose teeth or if you’ve noticed she’s avoiding certain foods because she cannot chew them well, have her visit the dentist who can determine if it’s a problem she can fix or if your parent will need to visit her primary doctor for further investigation.
- Mouth or ear pain
A developing tumor can cause pressure on the tissues around it, causing radiating pain that may be constant or come and go. Your first thought may not be mouth cancer if your parent is having ear pain, but if no other source is found to cause the pain, it could be coming from the mouth.
For most mouth issues, it will not be cancer, but if your parent is suffering from any of the above for more than 2-3 weeks, you should plan for her to visit her doctor to begin the diagnosis of what is causing her mouth pain and/or sores.