What causes Lip Cancer and how is it Diagnosed

December 06, 2022, Blue Turtle Dental

Although the occasional cold sore or chapped lips irritates, lip cancer is another story entirely.

In its early stages, lip cancer is difficult to detect, but that’s when it’s easily manageable. By the time a lip tumor becomes evident, cancer calls for more invasive treatment and might quickly spread to other parts of your body.

This article highlights the symptoms and causes of lip cancer as well as how it is diagnosed and treated.

Who gets lip cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, researchers are not sure what exactly causes oral cancers, including lip cancer. That said, as your dentist in Redwood City will tell you, several factors can amplify your risk of developing cancer.

A lot of sun exposure (UV radiation) is one of the leading causes of lip cancer. Also, certain habits, such as chewing tobacco or smoking and excessive drinking of alcohol, increase the risk. When combined, tobacco and alcohol use produce a considerably higher risk of oral cancer than either factor individually.

Additional risk factors for lip cancer include being fair skinned, being infected with certain strains of HPV, having a weakened immune system, and being over 40 years old. Men are more prone to lip cancer than women, probably because they are less likely to use lip balms. Also, they may be more likely to have consumed excess alcohol or smoked in the past.


Symptoms of lip cancer

In the early stages of lip cancer, you may spot a somewhat swollen patch of discolored lip skin. The lesions may first look like a cold sore, the only distinction being that cold sores usually disappear within a few days. Lip cancer sores take a while to heal and can last for a few weeks.

Generally, lip cancer symptoms include:

       White or red patch on the lower or upper lip

       Lump, ulcer, or sore that lingers

       Swollen jaws

       Bleeding lips

       Numbness or pain in the lips

Diagnosis for lip cancer

As we mentioned, lip cancer may be hard to detect during the initial stages. However, a qualified dentist can easily pick up the early symptoms during a routine checkup.

When your Redwood City dentist suspects signs of lip cancer, they may advise you to have one of the following diagnostic tests to be carried out.

Physical assessment: The dentist inspects the lips and other parts of your mouth for abnormalities. Also, they may examine your lymph nodes for signs of swelling or inflammation.

Soft tissue biopsy: This procedure helps to confirm the diagnosis of lip cancer. Usually, a small tissue sample is extracted from the affected lip area. The sample is further examined under a microscope in a lab. If the biopsy reveals lip cancer, more tests will be performed to ascertain how advanced it is.

Endoscopy: An endoscopy may be carried out if the dentist believes the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the mouth. The process entails passing a flexible camera down your throat to check for cancer signs.

Image test: In addition to endoscopy, your doctor may suggest a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan, chest X-ray, or positron emission tomography (pet). The findings of the imaging test will show the extent of the cancer spread.

Complete blood count (CBC): A CBC may be carried out whenever there is a considerable fluctuation in blood cell count. This test aids in diagnosing many conditions, including cancer.

Lip cancer treatment

Usually, lip cancer is treatable, and the majority of patients have a great outcome after treatment.

According to National Cancer Institute, surgery is the most common treatment for lip cancer. In this procedure, the surgeon carefully removes tumor layers and a portion of tissues surrounding it, examining each layer for cancer cells. The surgeon ends the procedure when the cancer cells are no longer visible under a microscope. Removing the affected cells helps prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the mouth.
Advanced cases are often treated by an ENT doctor. Here, chemotherapy or radiation may be employed together with surgery.

How to prevent lip cancer

Follow the steps below to protect yourself from lip cancer:

Limit or quit drinking and smoking: As we mentioned, these two habits, when combined, put you at much more risk for oral cancer than either habit alone. 

Avoid strong direct sunrays: Schedule outdoor activities when the sun is skin-friendly.

Wear lip balm and skin protection with an SPF of at least 30: Wear it every time you go outside.

See your Redwood City dentist regularly: Dentists are better positioned to detect lip cancer; thus, ensure you undergo routine cleanings and exams.

If you suspect any unusual changes in your lip, don’t panic. Seek help from the best oral dentist in Redwood City immediately. Early detection is crucial for effective lip cancer treatment. 

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