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Gum cancer is a type of mouth or oral cancer. It forms when cells in the gums grow out of control, forming lesions or tumors.
Oral cancer is in the category of head and neck cancers, and doctors treat them similarly. Lesions, growths, and tumors in the mouth characterize oral cancer. They can occur on the:
Oral cancer has symptoms similar to other common and less severe problems. Rough or dry patches on the gums or inside of the mouth may be signs of precancerous conditions. Gum cancer is commonly mistaken for gingivitis.
Other symptoms of gum (and mouth) cancer include:
Gum cancer typically looks like:
The Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) provides photos of gum cancer on its website.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI), Cleveland Clinic, and American Cancer Society (ACS) report on the risk factors for oral cancer.
About three out of four people who develop gum cancer and other mouth cancers practice one or more of the following habits:1
People who have human papillomavirus (HPV) and/or a family history of mouth cancer are also more prone to developing gum and other mouth cancers
Men are at higher risk of developing oral cancer compared to women. Light-skinned people are slightly more likely to develop oral cancer than dark-skinned people.2
According to one study:2
Mouth cancer may affect your oral cavity and your oropharynx. Your oropharynx consists of parts of the tongue, the roof of the mouth, the area behind your wisdom teeth, and the part of the throat that is visible when the mouth is wide open.
Oropharyngeal cancer (throat cancer) is cancer in your oropharynx and can occur concurrently with mouth cancer. Oral cancer can be confused with other common problems like gingivitis, lip sores, or dry patches on the inside of the mouth.
Gum and other types of oral cancer can spread to other parts of the body, including the:
Oral cancer causes the cells of the affected area to grow and multiply. It can cause:
It is best to diagnose and treat oral cancer early. This is essential to stop cancerous cells from growing. It also allows doctors to perform any other necessary treatments before the problem worsens.
Dentists usually identify gum cancer through an oral cancer exam. If they spot a potential symptom or early sign of oral cavity cancer, they will follow up with preliminary tests or refer you to an oral cancer specialist.
Oral cancer specialists include:
These specialists are commonly known as ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeons. The next step after the oral cancer exam is conducting tests to determine if it is mouth cancer.
These tests include:
Your doctor will examine the entirety of your oral cavity and may feel around your mouth. They will also examine your head, face, and neck for any warning signs of oral cancer.
A brush biopsy is also known as a scrape biopsy or exfoliative cytology. Doctors use a tool to scrape mouth areas to test cells for cancer.
Like a brush biopsy, the doctor removes pieces of cells to test for cancer. However, they use an incision tool rather than a scraping tool.
The doctor uses a tool with a small mirror on one end to visibly examine the throat, the base of the tongue, and the larynx.
The doctor uses an endoscope to look at other areas of the mouth and throat that aren’t visible with a mirror. An endoscope has a small lens with a light attached to a thin pole. This can detect oral cancer.
Physicians advise early oral cavity cancer treatment for best outcomes. Gum cancer and other mouth cancers have three main treatment options:
The best treatment for oral cancer depends on your health, age, preference, risk factors, stage and type of cancer, and whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body. Therefore, treatment options vary.
Some treatments for oral cancer include:
This treatment involves anti-cancer drugs that target and kill cancer cells.
Beams of radiation energy target cancer cells to kill them or halt any additional oral cancer growth. Physicians may combine radiation therapy with other cancer treatment options.
Drugs and other substances can precisely identify and kill specific types of cancer cells without harming normal cells.
Monoclonal antibodies are an example of targeted cancer treatment therapy. These antibodies are immune system proteins that help treat oral cancers.
Also called biological therapy, immunotherapy supports your immune system to fight oral cancer.
To help prevent oral cancer:
Gum cancer and other mouth cancers begin in the squamous cells of the oral cavity. Squamous cells are flat cells that look like fish scales under a microscope.
Like other cancers, squamous cells become cancerous when their DNA alters. These squamous cells begin to grow and multiply out of control.
As oral cancer progresses, the cancerous squamous cells may spread to other areas of the mouth, head, neck, or other body parts.
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